Zoo Explorer Begins
I spend a lot of time trying to apply what I have learned into solving other people's tech problems. Sometimes the solution has already been created, we just need to connect A to B. Other times we have to sprinkle in good solutions that were born from other projects.
But sometimes I come across problems that mean something to me personally, but surprisingly have yet to be solved. One such issue is the difficulty small children are have viewing zoo exhibits. I know it's not on the top ten list of world problems, but to my 4 year old daughter it was an issue.
The problem is exacerbated by zoos that have natural habitats. The animals naturally want to stay away from people or lay in the shade, which makes it difficult for visitors to experience them. This was the case while visiting a popular zoo with my family last summer. "Daddy I can't see them!", was what I heard all day. In all honesty it was hard for me to see the animals as well.
The zoo was doing a few things to try to enhance visitor satisfaction. There was a lot of educational signage and even some QR coding, but for a younger demographic we feel it missed the mark.
It really made me start to think of ways for my children, who love animals and were the reason I was visiting, to enhance their experience at the zoo.
The answer seemed very obvious to me. If I can put a wildlife viewing system on a remote island, how much more sense would it make to place one in a controlled environment? I started on adapting our Field Explorer System right away.
Really some of the same challenges that are issues in the exhibits, are issues we already solved in the field! Power, wireless transmission, and animal acceptance just to name a few.
There are a lot of zoos that have a webcam or two set up so that the animals can be viewed online. Often however, the quality is low because of bandwidth constraints. Also, web camera streams are rarely available for the visitors at the zoo. Having HD motorized cameras that could display live close up action video of the animals, live to the people actually at the exhibit would give young and old, short and tall, access to see amazing images. It's like a big screen at a ballpark showing close ups of the national anthem and the replays.
One of our further field innovations was the use of apps to view the video on personal electronic devices like iPads and iPhones. That really makes the images accessible.
We proposed our idea to the very same zoo I visited and they loved the ideas we had. Testing has been taking place from December 2014 and many upgrades to the prototype systems have been made. I am very excited about not only the results we have attained, but also the potential for the future. This application can also help the elderly and those with limited access such as guests in wheelchairs or scooters to fully enjoy the exhibits. For these visitors, sharing the same viewing experience others are having, including children and grandchildren, will really help bridge the gap of accessibility.
We even performed a test where my daughter wore a Go Pro camera on her head so we could truly experience what she could see. The results are dramatic. After viewing that video we made many modifications to allow for greater satisfaction of our small zoo visitors. As we progress I hope to share some of our results.