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World's first AR zoo is proposed for Bristol

Zoos have long faced ethical issues surrounding the capture and keeping of wild animals, often countered by those who say their existence is justified by education and conservation efforts. One solution is to leave the animals in their countries of origin and focus on protecting them there, and turn to augmented and virtual reality for education.

A collective in the UK is aiming to create the world’s first AR wildlife park within Bristol Zoo’s 12-acre gardens. That historic location — home to one of the oldest zoos — will be left vacant once the zoo has relocated to a larger site that provides more space for both animals and visitors. Instead of using the abandoned plot for housing development, OurWorld Bristol envisions an immersive experience that will allow visitors to see animals in their natural habitat, or look at the world from another creature’s perspective, for example taking an ants-eye view of gigantic snails and woodlice while snacking on bits of decaying wood.

AR will not only enable people to travel in space, but also in time, going back millions of years to when dinosaurs roamed the Bristol area, by superimposing virtual images on the existing landscape: "As you swap back to your visor, the entire vista of the Downs is repopulated with the hyenas, rhinoceroses and gigantic bears of the Ipswichian Interglacial: a chilling blast of air makes you catch your breath, and the skies are filled with the eerie trumpeting of these lost Bristolian mastodons."

Trend Bite

As AR/VR technology advances and people become comfortable in virtual realms, that’s where they’ll increasingly go to get their experience fix. While many of those activities — from esports to retail — take place indoors, opportunities abound in creating destinations with an immersive experience that offers more than purely ‘real’ surroundings ever could. The sweet spot could be in blending natural and virtual worlds, as proposed by OurWorld Bristol.

Innovation of the day

Sponsors of the proposed AR zoo include film director Stephen Daldry, architect George Ferguson and BBC host professor Alice Roberts, with initial renderings and creative vision by LDA Design.