Fun AR Ideas for Zoos, Aquariums, or Natural Science Museums

Tech · November 8, 2017

Fun AR Ideas for Zoos, Aquariums, or Natural Science Museums

Making magic in the real world: Dustin from Stranger Things would have been SO into an AR dinosaur exhibit at his local museum. 😉

So you’ve heard about augmented reality but can’t quite imagine what Pokémon Go has to do with your zoo or aquarium? There are a host of ways that AR can be used to enhance learning, create connections between visitors and animals, and even increase revenue through donations and sales. But first, let’s go over basics.

How It Works: AR 101

For those of you who are new to AR, here’s a quick guide. Basic AR involves a trigger. Imagine a sign or a t-shirt or poster at your zoo or aquarium. Visitors point their mobile devices at the trigger and an AR experience is activated and overlaid onto the real world. That experience can be a 3D model of an animal or person or it could simply be video or audio.

The other form of AR is a lot like Pokémon Go–an AR experience or object is triggered depending on your location. Taken together, there are many ways AR can be used as a tool to enhance visitor experience and also help your institution meet its goals.

Here are just a few ideas of how AR can be used!

To see a 3D zookeeper talk about giraffes on your iPhone, download the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens app here, press the AR button, and point your phone at the giraffe image above.

Star Wars and AR: The Magic of 3D Objects

When a 3D object springs out of the ground where nothing was before, many of us can’t help feeling like we’re in Star Wars, and Princess Leia is sending us an urgent message. Zoos and aquariums can use 3D objects in AR to bring animals–extinct or otherwise–to life. Keepers and naturalists can share their knowledge to visitors at times they can’t be physically present. You can even let animals talk and tell their own stories. (Some of you won’t be into that, but kids might be!)

3D objects can spring from a mat on the ground or an interpretive sign. They can even pop out of t-shirts, posters, or business cards. To see a zookeeper from our partner, the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens, come to life on your iPhone, download the app here, press the AR button and point your phone at the giraffe image above! Make sure to have your volume on so you can hear what she has to say.

Reveal An Answer in AR

People of all ages enjoy treasure hunts. Imagine a zoo or aquarium where the signs at an exhibit pose a question and visitors point their phones at the sign to see the answer in augmented reality. AR reveals work best when you use them for questions where a visual would help understanding.

For instance, giraffes are one of the most popular animals at the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens. We created a trigger that asked “How big is a giraffe’s heart?” When visitors point their phones at the trigger, 3D models of an anatomical heart and a basketball the same size pop up. Interacting with the question and seeing the answer pop up in 3D increases the impact of the answer. In a fun twist, we put the same trigger on a sticker that, then asks “How big is your heart?” and connects to the donation page of a giraffe conservation group.

Looking to increase revenue? Think AR collateral.

Already created an AR experience and want to see how you can stretch it further? One cool part of AR is that once the experience is built, you can put the trigger on anything. From t-shirts to mugs to calendars, the trigger can be used to generate additional revenue. Take our partner, Battleship IOWA. The Battleship took their Battleship AR experience, where a 3D battleship pops up, and put it on mugs in their gift shop. The popularity of the mugs, along with the Battleship’s efforts to promote them (they put a video about how to use the mugs in their gift shop), resulted in an over 150% increase in sales in mugs year on year. Not bad, right?

The impact that AR creates can also be a great time to connect learning to a donation or other call to action like we mentioned above with the giraffe stickers example.

Low-tech has its place, of course

Of course, making a connection with your guests doesn’t have to include technology. One of our favorite Instagram accounts is the National Aquarium of New Zealand’s. They choose a naughty and nice penguin every month and explain what the penguins did to deserve that honor. Sometimes, the simplest, low-tech ideas are the best. Think of AR as a medium that your zoo or aquarium can use for interpretation, storytelling, fun, and even raising revenue where it makes sense.

What other ideas do you have about how AR could inspire education and conservation? We’d love to hear from you!