Saving Our Rainforest Is Now A Virtual Reality

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Saving Our Rainforest Is Now A Virtual Reality
June 4, 2017

One recipient of the Advance Queensland Engaging Science Grants, the Atherton Tablelands-based Tree Kangaroo and Mammal Group will use its $10,000 grant to develop the world’s first 3D virtual reality tree-kangaroo.

 

The group is working closely with James Cook University’s Information Technology Academy to develop the virtual reality tree-kangaroo which will raise awareness of our unique fauna with a diverse range of users from school students to the general public, including visitors to the region.

 

Users will be able to immerse themselves in the 3D virtual reality environment of a tree-kangaroo character named Kimberley.

 

The tree-kangaroo’s virtual environment will help young people to learn more about how the study of science can help save our endangered species and their habitat.

 

David Hudson from the Tree Kangaroo and Mammal Group tells us some more information about Kimberley and tree-kangaroos.

We call her Kimberley after her real-life model, a hand raised, semi-wild Lumholtz’s tree-kangaroo.

 

Tree-kangaroos are the largest tree-dwelling mammals in Australia with males weighing up to 10kg and females 7kg. Males can be up to 60cm tall, with a 75cm tail. They feed on a wide range of rainforest plants and are incredibly charismatic.

Why are tree-kangaroos at risk?

 

Much of their rainforest habitat has been cleared for agriculture or other purposes, however most of the remaining habitat is secure in National Parks and other protected areas, for now. Like so many Wet Tropics mammals they face a very real threat from the potential impacts of climate change. Computer models show the amount of habitat suitable for tree-roos shrinking dramatically under business-as-usual scenarios.

 

Technology is effective in spreading the word about science.

 

Virtual reality is a game changer for science education and for delivering conversation messages.

 

James Cook University students are taking the proof-of-concept and building the simulation for interactions with the public, and are making it as real as possible using expert input from wildlife educators.

 

Once it’s finished there will be different options for its use.

 

After this stage of development is complete we will be able to set up Kimberley in visitor centres such as at Malanda Falls Visitor Centre on the Atherton Tablelands and, as the hardware is portable, take her to schools or science expos or open days — the possibilities are endless.

 

Where space is limited the user will sit in front of a screen, don the virtual reality headset and then use a joystick to navigate through Kimberley’s habitat.

 

Where there is more space, sensors will be set up in a 3 x 3m area and the user can walk around and explore the rainforest.

 

It will be great fun and an informative experience, and because this technology is so rapidly advancing we will be able to continuously enhance it.

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