Chickens being kept in small cages has long been a concern of animal rights activists, but a new idea from Iowa State University aims to improve the caged experience.
‘Second Livestock’ is a virtual reality (VR) universe which is designed to convince caged chooks that they are free-range. Its name was taken from the popular online virtual community ‘Second Life‘. The concept would allow caged chooks to experience everything that free-range birds can: trees, grass, simulated insects and of course, simulated chooks. Birds would be fitted with their own VR headsets, including a microphone, and be placed in an individual enclosure. Each enclosure will feature an omnidirectional treadmill to allow the chooks to roam their VR universe.
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Second Livestock’s creator, Austin Stewart from Iowa State University, designed the proposal primarily as a social experiment rather than a genuine attempt at incorporating VR into the agricultural sector. It was a means of igniting a discussion on the humane treatment of animals and whether we even understand what humane treatment is;
“The goal of the project is to raise that question of how do we know what’s best, or what is humane treatment.”
Stewart also used the experiment to examine the intricacy of the dynamic human relationship with technology. We are experiencing life in a way which in increasingly virtual. Virtual reality is already spreading into the corporate, science and entertainment sectors. From our homes and office cubicles we have experiences which are not physical; we talk to people via social media who don’t exist in front of us, for example.
“[The goal of the project is] also to look at how we treat ourselves. We’re living in these little boxes, just like chickens.”
Although Stewart has no concrete plans to put Second Livestock in action, he presented its completed blueprint at an exhibition in Ames and admitted he was not certain how serious his idea was. He claims to have a potential interest in developing the technology someday through partnering with a scientist to ensure the study remains ethical because, of course, chickens would not be able to consent to the study.