Oculus Rift, the virtual reality headset that lets users look around a game space as if they were really standing inside it, is widely regarded as the future of gaming. However, one Iowa State University assistant professor believes that the technology might also be the key to the future of livestock. Well, sort of.
Austin Stewart presented his idea, which he calls “Second Livestock” (a play on the popular human-simulator game “Second Life”), at an art and design exhibition in Ames, Iowa, which started April 23. The idea behind the project, according to the Ames Tribune, is simply that chickens are too numerous in the U.S. to all live a free-range lifestyle. However, by equipping caged chickens with a modified Oculus Rift, these chickens could be raised under the illusion that they’re living out in the open, even from their small confined spaces.
During his demonstration, Stewart let people try out "Second Livestock" via a human-sized Oculus Rift. The simulator shows a wide, open space complete with grass, bushes and virtual chickens. To move, a yoga ball was placed in front of people to be used as a track pad, simulating the movement of a chicken.
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“The goal of the project is to raise that question of how do we know what’s best, or what is humane treatment,” Stewart told Tribune.
He acknowledged, however, that "Second Livestock" will likely end up being more of a thought exercise than a reality.
“Right now, it would be far too expensive to actually implement this full system,” Stewart told the Tribune, adding, “in order to ask the question in a way that really makes it real for people, I had to show that this technology is plausible.”
Stewart presents his material in a style that Fast Company describes as "Ted Talk-y." He claims he does not want people to be able to tell if he is joking or being sincere with "Second Livestock."
“The aesthetics of the presentation are intentionally poor -- mirroring the presentations frequently given at technology conferences and tradeshows,” Stewart writes on his website.
He hopes that presenting a ridiculous topic in a serious manner will allow people to focus on the broader discussion of technology's growing integration into people's lives.
“I think we need to carefully evaluate whether this direction is a good direction to go for our species,” he says, per Fast Company. “It’s not so much that [virtual reality] is lacking humanity as it’s creating these really safe environments where we’re not actually exposed to anything harmful, which I don’t think would actually be really good for us.”