Lions and tigers and… drones? Oh, my!
The impending western Sydney Zoo plans to use drones, robots, augmented reality, and whatever innovative technology that an upcoming hackathon at Western Sydney University will dream up. The hackathon is expected to attract more than academics and scientists, but also start-ups, business and industry professionals, and engineers. The partnership between the new zoo and the university could disrupt any current norm of what a zoo experience entails.
Using Levi Stadium, the home of the 49ers, deep in the heart of Silicon Valley as the high-tech model, Don Wright, the manager of the university’s Launch Pad program, believes that a visit to the new zoo should be “one of the most technologically advanced wildlife experiences in the world.”
First, they are considering the overall user experience from the moment visitors arrive at the zoo.
“There is lots of focus on reducing queues, getting food to people faster, and using real-time data through the whole facility to deliver a better experience.”
The key to an enhanced visitor experience will start with an app that can be downloaded before zoo visitors even leave home.
“We are looking at an app that can not only let you know the park schedule and traffic before you arrive, but enable you to order food and give you real time information for where the biggest crowds are while you’re there.”
Speaking to the Herald Sun, Wright further explained his vision of a modern zoo experience, including some of the new cool conveniences that comes with using modern technology.
“During the visit we want the mobile device to manage keyless entry and minimize parking delays. With augmented reality, someone points their phone at the display and is served some information about that particular display.
“We’re very focused on wanting to guide the development from an educational perspective as well.”
This education will include “big screens and holograms” as well as “immersive displays.” Visitors will point their smartphone, complete with app, to find out information about each animal or display.
So what will the entire visitor experience be like? Professor Scott Holmes, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Vice President at WSU, is focused on creating a completely unique and transformative visitor experience unavailable anywhere else in the world.
“The focus will be on providing visitors with an immersive, safari-like experience that is both educational and entertaining, while emphasizing messages of conservation, education and habitat preservation.”
This technology does not end there. So why not consider disrupting the notion of what each member who works at a zoo does and take it a step further. What about feeding and exercising the animals? Zoo officials such as Wright will consider any sort of innovation to help in the day-to-day maintenance of the zoo. He used the surrealistic example of having cheetahs chasing drones for exercise.
He further explained some of the possibilities the new technology will bring.
“Initially the concepts are to try and use robotics and drones for all types of (events). It could be feeding, it could be for cleaning areas, it could be for stimulating animals and conditioning, all those types of activities. It could be a visual stimulation where you get an animal to chase the drone.
“We’ll have the experts there from a zoological point of view and a science point of view who will help guide the engineers and technicians to try and come up with these solutions.”
The $36 million zoo is scheduled to open in September 2017, just in time for Australian spring. What drones, robots, or augmented reality will be unveiled during that opening? There is no doubt that this zoo experience will be unlike anything every imagined before.
[Photo by Chris Ratcliffe/Getty Images]