images (3)Last year, we had a week of thunderstorms nearly every day. It was breezy and dramatic, and I took to opening the front door for hours during the day, and not worrying about closing the front screen that had a broken latch. I was nearby, working. What could possibly get by me, a writer, completely immersed in typing? Apparently, plenty of critters did, from a flurry of bugs and mosquitoes to the neighbor’s bickering grandchildren rollerblading in for a spell.

But most interesting of all, as I discovered with a shriek, was a tiny bat perched near several of my houseplants. I barely knew what he was at first, he was so tiny and still. Immediately googling bats, I was barraged with stories of rabies and quarantine. Was he sick? Was he just enjoying our plants? Was he scared? Should we take him to the nearby wildlife center?

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The bat echolocation device

I poked holes in a plastic container and I managed to get him to fly into it, without anyone being bitten (or his being hurt, note). On my way to the animal rescue center, I peered in at my little specimen who was crying to get out, wondering what had happened to him. He was not rabid, and thankfully neither I nor any of my family began foaming at the mouth, but we’ve never forgotten that little guy and are still rather perplexed as to why he flew into our house during the day to sit by our plants.

We definitely wanted to get into that little guy’s mind, just as that of our dog’s. And truly, what a source of human satisfaction that would be could we understand how they see us, and the world. Surely this is something specialized researchers have been working on for decades, from doggie IQ tests to the horrors of animal testing, and a multitude of animal specialists working with wildlife (gently) for years.

Now, thanks to a new virtual reality application, we may be able to catch more of a glimpse than ever into the world of animals. While we report on a variety of VR devices, from the well-known Oculus Rift gaming headset to training systems for hernia repair, the list goes on and on—even to include researchers studying spiders employing virtual reality while on tiny 3D printed treadmills.

This year, getting even a little more out there, visitors at the Sundance Film Festival were able to experience ‘The Eyes of the Animal’ from Marshmallow Laser Feast. Here, while wearing your grass-covered pod that encases an Oculus Rift headset, one is able to experience the outdoors like a true forest dweller.

20150918-VL4A0945-1-980x653 (1)In surreal surroundings, those viewing the scene are treated to vibrant, multi-colored landscapes in pink and purple. There, they morph from tiny flies into frogs, owls, and now even bats using echolocation. The whole scene was concocted with a combination of technology:

  • 360-degree cameras
  • Drones
  • Lasers
  • CT scans
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3D printed bat ears for amplification.

Animal footage/photogrammetry was offered by London’s Natural History Museum, and surround sound and audio vibrations are included too. According to iteota (where you can actually download the VR experience), the alternative experience offers the sensory perceptions of four British species and is set to ‘a binaural soundscape using audio recordings sourced from Grizedale Forest in the north of England.’

As viewers morph into nothing less than an English bat, they don headphones and a blindfold as echolocation help them understand their proximity to objects. This is made possible by a small listening device attached to a pole, adorned with a 3D printed bat ear that facilitates the sounds. Giving new meaning to ‘blind as a bat,’ humans are milling about without sight pretending to live as the small winged creatures do, and quite happy to do so apparently.

The tour began at the Bluedot Festival and will now continue on to showings in South Korea, Belgium, and Japan. You can also catch an example of the VR experience on YouTube (see below), as well as downloading it for free here.

According to iteota, ‘In the Eyes of the Animal’ was commissioned by Abandon Normal Devices and Forestry Commission England’s Forest Art Works, and produced by Abandon Normal Devices and Marshmallow Laser Feast. This VR experience was also supported using public funding by Arts Council England and Forestry Commission England. Discuss this project over at 3DPB.com in the Eyes of the Animal Virtual Reality forum thread.

[Source/Images: Ars Technica]

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