Wildlife Preservation with the Help of Virtual Reality
Virtual reality has found application in so many diverse fields and wildlife preservation and observation is one of the major areas where it is being utilized. The technology has opened up a whole new horizon to wildlife conservation and it has helped researchers all around the world to assess and evaluate the present condition of species far away in their environments as if they were right there with them.
The very first application of VR to wildlife conservation was seen in the observations of the endangered Jaguars in the Peruvian Amazon. It was used to better understand the environment in which they live in. The information gathered is used to optimize the mathematical and statistical models which predict the distribution of jaguars across the space they inhabit. The data also revealed information about their population growth or otherwise and threats to their existence. Another application that followed was in the protection of threatened regions of the Great Barrier Reef.
Researchers from Queensland University of Technology and the Lupunaluz Foundation who were led by Professor Kerrie Mengersen of Queensland University of Technology recreated certain areas of the Amazon after carefully putting together 360 degree video footage of the area. The expedition used virtual reality to enable experts enter a fully immersive environment where they could observe and extract information about the areas where jaguars are most likely to live.
“Because we can’t take these experts to these inaccessible places, how could we take these places to them?” she said.
“We had a series of 360-degree camera systems, like hacked versions of GoPro used to capture video,” said Associate Professor Tomasz Bednarz, also from the Queensland University of Technology, who was instrumental in the set-up of the project.
“We also had recording systems to capture the sounds of the environment from all directions.”
According to Mengerson, the method used here was more effective as it provided more detailed information compared with that generated from computer virtual reality environments which was used in a previous study on rock wallabies in Australia.
“The experts needed to know about the type of rocks to make any judgments about habitat suitability for the wallabies, and it is that degree of small scale detail that was really hard to obtain in our computer-generated environments,” Mengersen said.
“But immersive environments using 360-degree photos and video can give us that.”
Dr. Megan Saunders who is a marine ecologist in the Global Institute at the University of Queensland believes virtual reality technology will help bring the public closer to the conservation issues surrounding wildlife. According to her, “It has the potential to explain to people the importance of preserving the environment. These tools can bring the natural world to people,” Dr Saunders said.
“Virtual reality has the potential to bring usually inaccessible areas to people who have the power to make decisions and achieve positive change.”
There was a similar project called the XL Catlin Seaview Survey which used virtual reality to bring a 360-degree view of reefs around the world in high-resolution panoramic images to observers in the research community. All of this kinds of information and data will go a long way in our studies of wildlife and habitats and consequently preservation.