Seattle zoo turns to virtual reality and beacon technology to give visitors a closer look at animals

Visitors to the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle check out Taj and Glenn, the new rhinos on exhibit. New technology could bring the animals even closer. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

For all of the excitement that goes on in some of the award-winning exhibits at Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo, a good amount of intrigue takes place behind the scenes, where the animals are often fed and cared for.

In an effort to shed more light on animal behavior, their welfare and more, the zoo is testing two new technological initiatives in the new Assam Rhino Reserve — home to two greater one-horned rhinos named Taj and Glenn.

The first tech undertaking involves a virtual reality experience in partnership with Oculus and its team based in Seattle. A first-of-its-kind project, the experience features a 360-degree video showcasing a day in the life of the rhinos. From the viewpoint of a caretaker, users will get an exclusive look at everything from the rhino’s dietary needs to what it looks like in the “rain room” where it showers.

Taj and Glenn have taken over an area which previously housed elephants. Woodland Park Zoo President and CEO Alejandro Grajal said the resources which would have been spent building or re-adapting such an exhibit have gone into tech.

“It’s a 100-year-old zoo,” 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.”

Woodland Park Zoo President and CEO Alejandro Grajal, right, watches as visitors observe the rhinos in their enclosure. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

While it’s not exactly feasible to punch a hole in a wall and show visitors what they’re missing in back rooms, Grajal said VR allows for that.

“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 said. “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 …read more

Source:: GeekWire

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