philip lelyveld The world of entertainment technology


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

IMG_5230-1260x893In 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.

“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.

That second tech feature, called Rhino Lookout, involves the use of Bluetooth beacons placed strategically and discreetly around the area where the rhinos are living. In partnership with Bellevue, Wash.-based Footmarks, the zoo is using the beacons to help push expanded digital content to the smartphones of visitors already using the zoo’s mobile application.

“Imagine a future in which you can explore Assam Rhino Reserve at your leisure or simulate care activities, regardless of where you are,” said Wei Ying Wong, the zoo’s vice president of learning and innovation. “VR allows us the promise of transcending time and distance — making the zoo experience possible for everyone.”

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