Not long ago, Facebook decided to change its name to Meta. The move was to highlight the company’s commitment to the virtual world or worlds of the future. This is not surprising. In fact, most major technology companies expect virtual reality and augmented reality to grow significantly in the coming years. But what they may have not anticipated was the use of augmented reality for animals. Believe it or not, VR headsets for animals are being used for a variety of reasons. But it remains unclear if such pursuits are really worthwhile.
In the last few years, media reports have highlighted several VR headsets for animals being used. Some have applied then to dogs and cats, while others have tried them on chickens. Farmers are now using augmented reality for animals in cows in an effort to increase milk production. At first thought, such applications seem silly despite being somewhat comical. But perhaps the use of VR headsets for animals may actually be feasible in some instances. It might just be that we have now entered into the era of the “Mootrix.”
The Latest in VR Headsets for Animals
At the RusMoloko farm near Moscow, Russian farmers have tried for years to enhance milk production from their cows. Initial attempts used classical music, which seemed to have some positive effects. However, the results were not that impressive. That’s when they decided to pursue a different route and employ augmented reality for animals on their cattle. Collaborating with veterinarians and IT specialists, they were able to create a VR headset for animals to fit their cows. And based on their reports, the experiment using the technology was quite a success.
According to the Russian farmers, cows that wore the VR headset for animals increased their milk production by 22-27 liters a day. That’s pretty impressive, having a much greater impact than classical music. The assumption was that the cows were less stressed and happier, which in turn, resulted in higher quantities of milk. The augmented reality for animals provided the cows with images of a meadow. The simulation was thus more pleasing, especially when compared to their confinements. Though many have their doubts about the reported results, Russian farmers plan on ordering more VR headsets immediately.
Other Uses of Augmented Reality for Animals
VR headsets for animals have been applied to other species besides cattle over the last several years. Interestingly, the U.S. Army Laboratory has conducted experiments on dogs using augmented reality for animals. The headsets were developed by Command Sight to assist dog handlers with dogs involved with hazardous materials detection. The augmented reality allows dog handlers to give commands and signals to the animals while being out of harm’s way. Through this type of training, the dogs will hopefully be better prepared to conduct real-life hazmat missions. But to date, the training has not yet been put to the test.
While the use of augmented reality for animals sounds reasonable for hazmat detection dogs, that’s not necessarily the case otherwise. Believe it or not, some have attempted to place VR headsets for animals on chickens. The idea is to use the technology to make caged chickens on poultry farms believe they’re actually free-range. The virtual imagery contains grass, bugs, and other chickens with whom to socialize. It also contains food trays that are lined up with actual reality chicken-feeding trays. Presumably, by thinking they are “free,” the chickens will lay more eggs. But here too, the jury is out on whether these strategies are effective.
The Problem with Augmented Reality for Animals
Without question, many experts in animal research are highly suspicious of the use of augmented reality in animals. For most animal species, visual perceptions are not the same as human ones. For example, dogs have about half the peripheral vision that humans have. Plus, they have a duller sense of color vision, seeing only a few muted colors. The same is actually true for cows as well. When the VR headset for animals was designed for cows, IT specialists had to adjust the color palette. Cows only see some low shades of yellows and blues, so the appearance of the meadows had to be adjusted. These issues as well as a design that best fits an animals head are common obstacles when using augmented reality for animals.
The other challenges associated with augmented reality for animals is more conceptual in nature. Humans are more advanced and have the capacity to better appreciate symbolic imagery and complex environments. Likewise, virtual and augmented reality can readily be used for educational and entertainment purposes in humans. (Read more on the intersection of virtual reality and social interactions in this Bold story.) But it’s not necessarily true that animals, particularly non-primates, can grasp these alternative realities very well. A VR headset for animals can be designed and placed on an animal’s head. Many experts simply believe its capacity to have a significant effect on the animal is nearly non-existent.
A Metaverse with a Limited Future
While these stories about the use of a VR headset for animals is amusing, that’s likely the extent of its utility. Even if augmented reality for animals boosts milk or egg production, it’s probably not worth the investment. Designing and donning VR headsets on all your livestock requires not just money but time as well. And the yield from its use isn’t likely to make these investments worthwhile. More importantly, it’s even less clear that an augmented reality has any major effect on these animals. As a result, a simulated metaverse for animals is probably not something that has much merit. Unlike the Matrix with all its sequels, the Mootrix is more likely to be a one-hit wonder.