Orangutan Gamers

The Melbourne Zoo has implemented a revolutionary program and the first of its type. They have developed specially designed video games for their orangutans that are interactive all for under $1,000. The game system was created by researchers at the University of Melbourne’s Microsoft Research Centre for Social Natural User Interfaces (NUI) and consists of a projector, a part of an Xbox One including Kinect 3D, and a laptop. These interactive gaming system were developed to project images onto the ground so they can be detected and react to an orangutan’s movement as he or she touches and follows along.

Orangutans are highly intelligent animals and like to be mentally stimulated. These animals like adventure and explore changes in their environment. This technology is allowing them to stay mentally engaged. This enrichment technology has great potential for future directions. This is just the beginning.


7136874-3x2-700x467-2Photo from University of Melbourne

The Orangutans find the games fun and the games allow the animals to be mentally engaged so they do not become bored. The games challenge the animals and encourage problem solving. The games allow the animals to have an enriching environment and that makes them happy. Additionally, the games are educational and future games could include elements to help them master other technology to enhance their lives and experiences in zoological facilities around the world.

This technology allows them to make choices. The games could even lead to more control over their environments. For example, they could choose the temperature (within a range), control blinds to determine how much light they receive, or even access to certain areas of their enclosures. The technology could go far if explored with the safety of the animals in mind.


7136840-3x2-700x467-2Photo from University of Melbourne

Researches hope that these games will facilitate a boost in brain function leading to increased social interactions between Orangutans in zoological facilities. Malu, a 12-year-old orangutan at Melbourne Zoo, was the first one to test this new gaming system. He was shown a red dot moving as it was projected on the floor and he kissed it, making the dot explode. When it reappeared, he moved to kiss it again. While the news articles talk about the potential use of this technology and the intelligence of the animals, it lacked a discussion on its role in training through operant conditioning. Future use of this technology could help trainers teach animals certain behaviors needed for medical procedures or other behaviors that will enrich the animal’s life.

The first trial phase lasted one month and included six orangutans. As researchers gather data, they hope that their findings will lead to the expansion of this unique idea and may lead t the creation of specific games tailored to various types of animals. Who knows what we see in the future, but one thing is clear. Those that work in zoological facilities are committed to always thinking about the animal’s well fare and often think out of the box and this case out of an Xbox.


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