Virtual zoo would form part of L.I.V.E. Centre, which would also include a virtual aquarium and museum, planned to open in China in 2017
Around a third of the complex could use virtual reality, as well as robots
Exhibits and animals on show could change at the touch of a button
Centre could cost $200 million (£129 million) to build in technology alone
Zoos may play a conservation role, but some people believe they are cruel and that captive animals are unhappy in small enclosures.
However, a virtual zoo that’s planned for China could solve this ethical dilemma by letting people experience digital creatures roaming digital habitats using virtual reality headsets.
Under plans, the zoo would be part of the 200,000 ft (18,581 square metres) L.I.V.E. Centre, which would comprise a virtual zoo and aquarium, interactive museum and digital art gallery, as well as a shopping centre, stage and cinema.
A virtual zoo planned to be part of a theme park in China would let people experience animals in their natural habitats using virtual reality technology as well as robotics and other technology. An illustration is shown
The futuristic complex is the brainchild of Landmark Entertainment Group, which is behind immerse entertainment experiences such as Universal’s Jurassic Park ride.
Tony Christopher, chief executive and founder of the company, told MailOnline that virtual reality technology will likely be incorporated into 30 per cent of the zoo and aquarium experiences.
Other technologies used to conjure up the jungle and sea, for example, will include 4D theatres with effects and simulators to move the body.
‘We’re also interested in using advanced robotics,’ he said.
Under plans, the zoo would be part of a 200,000 ft (18,581 square metres) L.I.V.E. Centre, which would comprise a virtual zoo and aquarium, interactive museum and digital art gallery, as well as a shopping centre, stage and cinema
He added that the technologies should be ‘invisible’ so that people have a magical experience.
‘The majority of what exists in the virtual reality market today is short-form content, whereas our goal is to work with brands to create long-form virtual reality entertainment destinations.
‘What we’re creating is the equivalent of taking your family to a theme park for a day, and enjoying that experience so much, that you want to repeat it over and over again – the only difference is that the experience will happen in the virtual world.’
Illustrations of the Centre, penned by Syd Mead who worked on sci-fi films including Blade Runner, Tron and Tomorrowland, don’t show people wearing virtual reality headsets, such as the recently unveiled Oculus Rift - but they will play a role in the virtual zoo.
The futuristic complex (the aquarium is illustrated) is the brainchild of Landmark Entertainment Group, which is behind immersive entertainment experiences such as Universal’s Jurassic Park ride.
This image of the zoo portion of the project appears to show freestanding structures that may be robotic. But Mr Christopher said visitors to the virtual zoo might visit a 4D theatre experience wearing virtual reality headsets to take them on a tour of the planet.
‘We’re not ready for wandering around with VR headsets on yet,’ Mr Christopher said, explaining that people would not be able to see where they are going.
‘I think that’s an interesting idea but it won’t be available for a while.’
Instead, visitors to the virtual zoo might visit a 4D theatre experience wearing virtual reality headsets to take them on a tour of the planet.
They might see a mixture of 3D video and CGI animations while feeling wind in their face, for example.
‘They would experience and see animals in their natural habitat,’ Mr Christopher said.
Robotic animals may also feature in the grand vision.
Unlike real zoos, the virtual zoo and aquarium could change its star attractions at the touch of a button, by switching software.
In this way, visitors could see and learn about apes instead of big cats, for example. There would be no animal welfare issues either.
Mr Christopher told Mashable that animal welfare charity Peta saw an early presentation about the zoo and loved it.
Based on his own experiences, he said: ‘I believe that it isn’t politically correct to have animals in a zoo.’
Mr Christopher said the L.I.V.E. Centre will cost around $200 million (£129 million) in technology alone - not counting the price of land or the building itself.
The project, which could open as soon as 2017, has the support of a group of private investors supported by the Chinese government.
No exact location has been decided, but the cities of Xi'an, Chengdu and Wuhan are possibilities and ground could be broken in the next 12 to 18 months.
Unlike real zoos, which can be permanent home to animals, the virtual zoo (illustrated) and aquarium could change its star attractions at the touch of a button by switching software.
Mr Christopher said there is demand for new theme parks in China because parts of the huge country are relatively 'under built'.
Because the technology will be so new, he hinted that China is a relatively anonymous location where glitches can be fixed quickly and quietly, so is a good place to test the concept.
There are no plans to open a similar park in the US or the UK in the near future, but he hopes that there may be 30 or 40 in existence one day so that exhibitions and animals in the form of software can be shared round the world.
Mr Christopher also hopes that the virtual reality experience could be shared with home owners’ devices.
‘We intend to create a product, something to get people to use VR on a daily basis, with the dream of having a VR portal,’ he said.