Seattle Zoo Look To Virtual Reality To Offer Visitors A Closer Look At Their Rhinos

The joy of immersive technology is that it allows users to get closer than ever before to locations, objects or even animals they would otherwise not be able to. This is what Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo is doing with a plan to leverage virtual reality (VR) and beacon technology to help offer visitors a more immersive zoo experience, as reported by GeekWire.

Woodland Park Zoo

This integration of technology to offer a number immersive experiences is no only designed to bring visitors closer to the animals but also to get a look at them behind-the-scenes. This is being used mainly on the new Assam Rhino Reserve which is home to two greater one-horned rhinos named Taj and Glenn. Visitors will be able to put on a VR headset and experience a full 360-degree video showcasing the daily life of the rhinos. This is presented from the viewpoint of a caretaker and gives viewers an exclusive look at everything from the dietary needs of the rhinos to seeing their “rain room” where it showers. This project was created in partnership with Oculus and its team based in Seattle.

As Tej and Glenn have taken over an area which was previously home to elephants, the resources which would of been used to build a new home or re-adapting one have instead been spent on the technology. “It’s a 100-year-old zoo,” Woodland Park Zoo President and CEO Alejandro Grajal said. “Most of the behind-the-scenes areas are not really accessible or safe for people to see. So what we’re doing with technology is we see it as a huge opportunity for us to show the kind of care that goes on behind the scenes.”

“The surprising part about zoos — not only this one, but almost all zoos — is that the most interesting part of what happens in the zoo — the care, the veterinary care, the trainer, the keepers — all that happens behind the scenes,” Grajal explains further. “When I tell people that we have a commissary that prepares food that is larger than most industrial kitchens and we get bales of organic hay and crickets and frozen fish and human-quality organic fruit — most people have no mindset of what it takes to feed 1,700 animals every day.”

Woodland Park Zoo

The VR experience is not ready to be made publicly accessible just yet as the pilot program goes live directed towards controlled groups of visitors. Their reactions to what they see and feel is part of the overarching research the zoo is carrying out to see whether the technology can enhance empathy in people, making them more likely to take pro-conservation action.

Visitors will also be able to experience a new “Rhino Lookout” feature, which involves the use of Bluetooth beacons that have been placed discreetly throughout the rhino area. In partnership with Bellevue based Footmarks, the beacons are being used to help push digital content to visitors smartphones through the zoo’s mobile application. This is being used to provide as much information as possible to visitors without covering the zoo in signage, making it all down to the individual how much they want to dive into the experience within the mobile application.

“On the internet I can publish all of this content. But here, you’re not just going to plaster screens everywhere,” Rebecca Whitham, Director of Content and Creative Strategy, Woodland Park Zoo explains. “You want that second-screen experience, you want that ability to add another layer of content without necessarily taking away from that experience of looking at the animal. If anything you want to heighten that experience.”

As the Woodland Park Zoo continues to explore what benefits they can give visitors with immersive technology, VRFocus will be sure to bring you all the latest so stay tuned for more.