Sydney's Future Zoo Wants To Use Augmented Reality, Robots And Drones

Western Sydney University (WSU) and Sydney Zoo are collaborating with the goal to deliver "one of the most technologically advanced wildlife experiences in the world" with the assistance of a hackathon.

Speaking with Gizmodo Don Wright, Manager of WSU's "Launch Pad" program and Zoo Hackathon Coordinator, revealed the possibilities for technology use within the zoo. We're talking everything from augmented reality to cheetahs chasing drones.

Image: Shutterstock

The new $36 million Sydney Zoo, to be based at the Western Sydney Parklands, Bungarribee, is a 16.5 hectare site that will consist of over 30 exhibits utilising intelligent fencing designs to deliver a "on-safari" visitor experience.

WSU's Launch Pad innovation program will serve as a platform to bring together tech startup businesses, students, researchers, scientists and technology experts to assist the project.

Launch Pad will also provide the Zoo with the resources of the broader University, giving them the opportunity to work with University experts and other industry partners, and provide access to an extensive range of facilities for research and development activities.

The first step is the Hackathon, aimed at generating a range of new ideas for the design, management and maintenance of the new Zoo, including utilising new technology to develop interactive animal displays and create the most engaging visitor experience.

The Hackathon will bring together people from across the disciplines including computing, engineering, design, science, the arts, social science, zoology, veterinary science, marketing, communications and business.

Wright says there are three main core elements that will be considered: visitor experience and management, immersive displays and conservation.

"Visitor experience can be enhanced a number of ways," Wright told Gizmodo. "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."

Education is a huge focus, Wright emphasised, highlighting the potential for augmented reality.

"Visitors can hold their phone up to say, the tiger enclosure, and get educational information right then and there."

"Immersive displays" are an option, with "big screens and holograms" says Wright.

But the most innovative and interesting considerations are in the conservation sector.

"We are looking for ways to use robotics and drones," Wright reveals, using the cheetah as an example. "Cheetahs have to be exercised -- we could use technology. We could use drones and have the cheetahs chase them, and have it interactive with the visitors. Kids could operate the drones. There's a lot of possibilities."

Professor Scott Holmes, Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Vice President (Research and Development) at WSU says the University is keen to work with the new Sydney Zoo to help redefine the visitor experience into something far more engaging than traditional zoos.

"The focus will be on providing visitors with an immersive, safari-like experience that is both educational and entertaining, while emphasising messages of conservation, education and habitat preservation," says Professor Holmes.

"Sydney Zoo's commitment to animal welfare is paramount. This partnership will help Sydney Zoo be a centre of excellence for education and animal conservation, offering a range of programs that enable visitors to develop their knowledge and respect for living creatures and the environment," says Jake Burgess, CEO, Sydney Zoo.

"As part of this commitment we want to re-examine the way the zoo can use technology to improve animal welfare and behavioural enrichment. We also want to redefine the way we interact with our visitors. The scope for innovation is huge and we are proud to partner with WSU in delivering this.”

The Hackathon will be held on the 8th April 2016 at the University's Launch Pad facility at the Werrington Park Corporate Centre.

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