An Oculus Rift For Chickens Gives Animals The Freedom To Roam Without The Roaming

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Oculus Rift has plenty of potential for changing human interaction, but what about other animals? One project from Iowa State University assistant professor Austin Stewart (via FastCo Exist) imagines how VR goggles could make chickens believe they’re free-range, even when they’re not. They can explore a virtual grassland, and with future iterations of Oculus, even peck at the ground and bob their heads around to take in the landscape at different angles.

It sounds absurd because it is, in part; Stewart’s so-called Second Livestock project is actually more of a social experiment than a genuine project aiming to bring virtual reality to farm flocks. He’s pitching it via a website with a deadpan seriousness that is fairly convincing, right down to the description of what are essentially high density livestock condominium complexes that purport to generate as little waste as possible by recycling waste and using animal body heat as the source for facility environment controls.

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Stewart’s MO is to create tech-based projects that shed light on our relationship with gadgets and the world, however, and the way in which we can sometimes lean too heavily on tech in pursuit of relatively simple ends without stopping to consider how we might do it better without the bells and whistles. But in the end, the project isn’t designed to purely deride tech, its users or the people he claims to be selling to. Instead, Stewart hopes to spark discussion among even audiences that normally gloss over tech pitches about what we’re creating with digital environments.

Which isn’t to say Stewart isn’t open to the possibility of making VR for chickens a real thing – he says he’ll work with scientists who want to make it legit, should any offer their services.