Virtual reality used to be science fiction, but now we can experience virtual universes in a basic form. While humans can enjoy this technology, have you ever wondered if it might benefit animals? One Russian dairy farm has, and it is testing virtual reality headsets on cows. The experiment was announced by the Ministry of Agriculture and Food of the Moscow Region, which suggests that improving the cows’ quality of life can benefit milk production. It said that VR goggles could be used with other relaxation aids such as classical music and massage brushes. “Examples of dairy farms from different countries show that in a calm atmosphere, the quantity, and sometimes the quality, of milk increases markedly,” said the ministry.
Virtual reality scientists have made a summer field simulation based on studies about bovine (cows’) vision. After using the program, researchers found “an increase in the overall emotional mood of the herd.”
Some people have questioned whether a simple headset can fool a cow into thinking it is really in a summer field because the virtual reality program only includes visual information, not smells and feelings.
Austin Stewart has invented a “Virtual Free Range™” simulation for chickens, called Second Livestock. The program aims to give farmed birds a sense of a free-range life, where “Chickens are free to roam, socialize and ‘eat’ virtual food,” states the company’s website.
Cows and chickens are not the only animal species experiencing virtual reality. Scientists are already putting mice and rats in VR simulations to study brain activity, and researchers at the University of Washington are doing VR experiments to study memory in monkeys.
Australian researchers suggested in a recent article for The Conversation that animals have shown little interest in technology for entertainment. However, seeing orangutans use digital technology boosted humans’ empathy for the creatures. How does technology influence the way humans see the natural world?