Falcon’s Creative Group brings augmented reality edutainment to Brevard Zoo

By | June 26, 2020

ORLANDO, Fla. — Visitors to Brevard Zoo can now witness one of nature’s extraordinary events thanks to an enlightening augmented reality (AR) experience, the first of its kind at the Melbourne, Florida facility.

Brevard Zoo commissioned Falcon’s Creative Group to design and implement a turnkey AR experience for their new “Rainforest Revealed” exhibit. The goal for the AR experience was educating guests about the seasonal flooding of the rainforest and how the pacu fish play a pivotal role in maintaining the health of the ecosystem by consuming and dispersing the seeds of nearby vegetation. “We chose to create an AR experience for this particular exhibit because we wanted to tell the story of why the flooded forest is so important. Now visitors can better understand the whole process that is so vital for this ecosystem,” explains Andrea Hill, marketing and communications director at Brevard Zoo. 

Visitors will see the entire process of the forest flooding and seeds being dispersed, beginning with falling rain and rising water that reveals dozens of animated pacu. As seeds fall into the water, the pacu consume them and later pass them, after the seeds have moved through their digestive system. Once the flood waters return to normal levels, the seeds grow into new vegetation along the bank of the pond within the actual habitat.

A presenter freely moves a tablet PC to change perspectives of fully dimensional AR content as if it were integrated within the habitat. As the story unfolds, the presenter also controls the timing of all events and elements in the AR content, creating a custom and personalized experience for each group of visitors. Interesting facts can also be revealed in the virtual world by seeking out various info-beacons within the virtual environment. This experience is also hygiene-friendly, as the only person coming into contact with the tablet is the presenter. “It was important to us that the experience could be adaptively controlled so that each presenter can add their own personal touch. There were many advanced techniques and cutting-edge technologies utilized behind the scenes for us to be able to achieve that level of flexibility, along with successfully integrating the virtual AR content into the real world,” states Jason Ambler, vice president of Digital Media at Falcon’s Creative Group.

While the habitat was still under construction, the Falcon’s team scanned the entire area using depth cameras to create a 3D representation of the environment to account for the various real-world trees and elements needed to interact in the same space as the AR content. The interactive content was then built using a complex hierarchy of real-time elements, such as rain and water systems as well as an artificial intelligence (AI) driven fish system that would generate an ongoing lifelike simulation that reacts to other elements in the scene. The experience also includes real-time sound effects, such as water rising and draining, pacus crunching seeds, and trees growing.

The AR experience was developed utilizing the Unity game engine that communicates with HTC Vive trackers and Lighthouse 2.0 cameras to generate 3D tracking data. The pass-through AR system integrates the real-time virtual content with a live video feed captured from a wireless tablet PC. The AR experience from the tablet is then wirelessly cast to a large external monitor and speaker system.Brevard Zoo first considered offering an AR experience after noticing a new audience coming through the turnstiles to play the mobile AR game, Pokémon™ Go. Hill says they realized technology could be utilized to enhance the learning experience. “We are super impressed with the thoughtfulness that Falcon’s put into the project, and we appreciate them staying within budget, which for us, a not-for-profit organization, is a big deal,” adds Hill. 

“We love working with zoos and aquariums to enhance their natural experiences and wildlife encounters by creating new opportunities for storytelling and edutainment,” adds Ambler. “With the right design solution, audiences can more deeply connect and engage with their experiences like never before.”