Researchers from the Microsoft Research Centre for Social Natural User Interfaces are collaborating with Zoos Victoria, University of Melbourne to study the learning, social choices and interactions between orangutans and technology.
Back in 2012, similar research oversaw orangutans using tablets and touchscreen computers, but due to the physical limitations of both appliances this placed significant boundaries on the extent to which the great apes could operate the devices. Launching at Melbourne Zoo this month, the orangutans will now be able to use the Xbox Kinect similarly to a touchscreen, without requiring a tablet or computer to accompany them in the enclosure.
The project’s aim is to “provide a new form of stimulation for the apes, giving them the ability to initiate their own fun while stimulating their problem solving” and to encourage “natural and positive behaviours.” Zoos Victoria’s Animal Welfare Specialist Sally Sherwen explains that the challenges the apes would have faced in their natural habitat are overcome in a zoo environment, “So zoos need to find other ways to provide animals with mental challenges and puzzles.”
The initial test using Melbourne Zoo’s twelve-year-old orangutan Malu has proven positive and specialised apps are already underway, taking the form of painting games and picture galleries. Rather than veering into couch-potatodom however, researchers will be utilizing projections to enable orangutans to use their entire body to activate applications, not just their fingers. The initial test used Melbourne Zoo’s twelve-year-old orangutan Malu, and has proven positive.
The project begins this week, and is scheduled to run all February.