Ice Age Animals Come to Life via Augmented Reality

Thu, 10 Mar 2022 03:45:00 GMT
Scientific American - Technology

Researchers want their models to inspire more accurate reconstructions of extinct animals such as...

Have you ever wanted to eat breakfast sitting across from a dire wolf or watch a saber-toothed cat roar from the comfort of your living room? These ice age animals have been extinct for more than 10,000 years, but scientists are bringing them back to life-virtually.

The team developed three-dimensional, animated models of some of the ice age animals found in the site of Rancho La Brea, better known as the La Brea Tar Pits, in Los Angeles.

Researchers at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum, and the University of Southern California worked with a video game development company to build the models and adapt their work for augmented-reality-enhanced museum exhibits, as well as smartphone-based AR experiences on platforms such as Snapchat and Instagram.

The team initially set out to study how much augmented reality can enhance museum visitors' engagement.

"People are pitching new technology in museums all the time," Davis says, "But there's actually very little research that shows that people learn better in AR." To put this tech to the test, the scientists decided to implement multiple AR-enhanced exhibits at the Tar Pits Museum.

After running a small but promising AR pilot study, the researchers looked for more accurate AR assets for a larger study and hit an immediate snag: peer-reviewed, scientifically accurate AR models of ice age flora and fauna did not exist, Lindsey says.

The researchers re-created 13 popular ice age animals-including a dire wolf, saber-toothed cat, American lion and Columbian mammoth-using low-polygon, or "Low-poly," graphics.

Instead of guessing at unknowns, the team focused on incorporating the most up-to-date paleontological findings about how these ice age animals looked and behaved.

"Paleoart can definitely spark curiosity," says Mariah Green, museum and collections manager at Virginia Tech's Museum of Geosciences, who was not involved in the study.

The team has also made its models available on social media so people can explore the animals at home.

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