Mediated Giraffe Vision

Over the weekend I visited the Brookfield Zoo outside of Chicago. The zoo (to its credit) provides many interactive educational experiences before/during/after each exhibit to help contextualize the animal. One of the most interesting devices was a tool designed to simulate a giraffe’s view.

giraffe view tool

Approaching the the faux giraffe-scope I anticipated a non-digital mirror-based submarine-like periscope. The giraffe-scope was a live camera feeding to the monitor in the view area!

giraffe vision

My immediate response was: surveillance as faux zoo animal? I imagined an American military scheme combined with a Far Side cartoon panel. While viewing the feed I wondered if my actions (using the giraffe-scope) being recorded and evaluated by a vision group? Maybe I can attribute that fear to 3 years in an HCI lab. The structure of the giraffe-scope is hidden from the view of the local giraffe population, allowing another population to view and possibly record their actions.

A mirror-based periscope demands the design of a long tube to function correctly, a video feed does not require the same infrastructure. Ok, the tube is a great place to run cables to the monitor, and not worry about them being ruined. Why restrict the feed to a singular view? Continuing the cctv surveillance model suggests multiple views will provide a more robust experience for the viewer. Why not embed additional cameras in the exhibit?

Immediately upon confronting a low resolution video monitor the simulation of giraffe height collapsed. The singular image was too similar to a cctv security camera and removed the fun from the viewing experience; I became aware that I was watching a monitor, not looking through the eyes of a giraffe. Children who arrpoached the device seemed to share in the same disappointment (they are tech savy). I observed a few children approaching the device with interest and enthusiasm, quickly being replaced with disappointment.

How to improve giraffe-scope:

Improved viewing experience: better monitors, maybe a zoom control(?).

Additional stations, with varied height, distributed around the exhibit. This will help support the narrative of a giraffe’s view.

An interface that appeals to a child, maybe pop-up labels that identify giraffes (colorful arrows + audio cue).

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