As a soft breeze breaks through the springtime heat at Zoo Atlanta, a young female gorilla's mind turns to troublemaking. She heads toward a large silverback male resting in the shade of an immense oak tree.
At first, he simply glares at the youngster as she playfully lunges at him and strikes aggressive poses she's learned from the others. But when his stares and annoyed coughs go unheeded, he suddenly charges the juvenile, screaming and beating his fists against his chest. Wisely, she flees.
Excited and a little scared, the female retreats to a nearby wooden shelter and pulls off her helmet. This gorilla, as it turns out, is actually a human student seeing firsthand how apes interact in the wild, through virtual reality.
The experience is part of a unique educational program being tested by Zoo Atlanta and Georgia Institute of Technology. At a press conference May 15, researchers from both organizations demonstrated what they believe is the world's first virtual reality gorilla exhibit.
Local schoolchildren were on hand to try out the virtual reality system, which puts them into a real gorilla habitat as a member of a gorilla family. The demonstrations were in the Ford African Rain Forest's Gorillas of the Cameroon Interpretive Center, against the backdrop of the home of Zoo Atlanta's most famous gorilla, Willie B.
In the future, researchers hope to create a program that can run on smaller, less expensive computers, allowing it to be installed permanently at the zoo as well as tour schools.
"Our Zoo Atlanta team of scientists and educators first began to
plan a 'virtual zoo' three years ago," said Dr. Terry L. Maple, director
of the zoo and one of the world's foremost authorities on gorilla
behavior. "We instantly thought of Georgia Tech as our design partner,
and we are extremely impressed with the scholarly approach taken by
Contact: Amanda Crowell
Georgia Institute of Technology Research News