Mixed Reality (XR) technologies present exciting new ways and opportunities in which we can preserve and enhance local forest & wildlife reserves and national parks. The potential of XR technologies is not only limited to entertainment and enhancement of the working environment; we can extrapolate it to creating a greater sense of awareness, awe and appreciation for local forests, national parks and the wonders of nature as a whole.
In VRChat, a massively multiplayer online virtual reality social platform, users have already created virtual forests, parks, and museums that are easily accessible by millions of people throughout the world (regardless of whether they have a VR headset or not). Virtual Reality (VR) games like TheBlu is a purely experiential game that takes you into the depths of the sea and immerse yourself in a beautifully modeled and animated underwater environment, creating a sense of awe and wonder of the creatures living in the great depths.
Augmented Reality for Nature & Wildlife Reserves
In my most recent trip to a protected mangrove, the signboards and labels were either disintegrated, falling apart, or were overrun with animal faeces, dirt, grime, and muck. It was difficult to discern what the signboards or information cards were trying to tell. Information centers were dilapidated and unkempt.
Combined with data analytics and object recognition and tracking, AR can not only provide real-time information overlays of current forest conditions as well as flora and fauna, but also transform an entire forest reserve to be an information or learning center. Every tree species, flower, area, beetle, bird or bug has a story to tell, and AR can be a viable platform for this.
The app would be timeless and ever expanding, without the need for manual maintenance of signboards or info cards. Sharing of information would be minimally invasive towards the forest. It would also be cost efficient, in a way that maintanence is no longer necessary for physical constructions.
From another standpoint, being able to see real-time information overlays may be able to assist rangers or foresters in navigation, statistical information, or changes that happen over time in the forest. We can keep track of the number of flora and fauna species, the population, and maybe even their states of health. This information can then help strategize reforestation and re-population plans.
However, as with any tool, such access to sensitive information may go awry when in the wrong hands. Poachers and illegal loggers may take advantage of such information to instead strategize ways to conduct illegal activities. Therefore, AR technologies and data repositories containing sensitive or important information must also be supported with a strong-level of data and network security and closely monitored.
Virtual Reality for Natural & Wildlife Reserves
We can make digital twins of natural forest reserves and parks. This may not only preserve them digitally, but also raise local and global awareness of existing flora, fauna, and natural terrain. People from all over the world wold get the chance to see what local forests look like without having to be there physically.
We can create a sense of awe, appreciation, wonder, and awareness of local forests and nature as a whole. We can visualize the impacts of deforestation, pollution, and poaching in order to generate a greater sense of empathy and sympathy, more than what flyers, leaflets or videos can muster. This can emulate a sense of solidarity and awareness through immersive technology that lets you feel and see more closely. Combined with a dedicated space designed for full immersion*, we can create a fully immersive experience for individuals.
In this video (which I submitted for a competition), I explained the concept of digitizing forests further, and how we can use digital twins of natural ecosystems to create an immersive, educational and flexible environment. The video also showcases a visualization of what we are trying to achieve: an immersive and interactive virtual forest environment that is rendered as true-to-life as possible using photogrammetry and 3D modelling techniques. However, for the visualization purposes, readily available 3D models were used instead.
If deforestation continues in the next few decades, with thousands of species gone and the world overrun with either buildings or pollution or artificially generated forests, these digital twins could be the push for people to restore what is left of the ecosystems we still have.