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World-first study gives orang-utans the choice

9 February 2016

Orang-utans at Melbourne Zoo are taking part in a world-first research project aimed at giving the great apes greater choice and control over how and when they interact with visitors.

The research project, conducted by the University of Melbourne in collaboration with Zoos Victoria and the Microsoft Research Centre for Social Natural User Interfaces, aims to better understand the ways orang-utans interact with technology and how they make choices through specially designed games.

The games incorporate the Microsoft Xbox Kinect to project onto the floor of the orang-utan’s exhibit and then operate as a touch-screen, using Kinect 3D technology to sense the animals’ movements when they choose to interact with the projections.

In a new development, the project will start testing if and how orang-utans interact with people through the technology.

Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Water, Lisa Neville and Minister for Small Business, Innovation and Trade, Philip Dalidakis, visited Melbourne Zoo to test their nous against Malu, a 12-year old Sumatran Orang-utan, in a series of basic games specifically designed to encourage Malu’s problem solving ability.

In a unique feature of this research project, the choice was left completely up to Malu as to if, when, and how, he wanted to interact with the Ministers.

If successful, it is hoped the new digital technology could be introduced for a number of animals across Zoos Victoria.