Virtual park bringing moa to life

RACHEL THOMAS
Last updated 09:50 29/07/2014
Virtual Moa
MARK TAYLOR / Fairfax NZ

MOA-TOWN MAGIC: Melanie Langlotz, left, from Auckland company Augview, and Jo Russell, of Otorohanga Zoological Society, in Rotary Park where the virtual moa is being brought to life.

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It's proving difficult to get a photo of the moa.

The towering bird crosses Rotary Park, carelessly bowling through a triceratops, stands still under a tree dotted with pigeons, stares down at us for a while, then lopes off again.

Rotary Park, opposite the iconic Otorohanga Kiwi House, is host to the world's first virtual moa park.

While Labour MP Trevor Mallard pushes his view that recovered moa DNA may one day see the extinct bird roam Wainuiomata, Otorohanga is front footing a lifesize 3D digital version in its own backyard.

Although the project is still in its prototype phase, the Waikato Times got a first-hand look at the intricately designed big bird - moving as it would have when it roamed through prehistoric New Zealand.

The moa is viewed through a smart device such as a tablet, or smart phone, using the system's camera. It's similar to a giant Playstation, where a real park becomes a virtual playing field. The player explores this parallel universe by moving around, interacting with whatever programmers drop in as virtual content.

The content is linked to GPS co-ordinates, and virtual content is given boundaries to keep users from chasing virtual content on to roads or into rivers.

The idea was born during a phone call between virtual whiz Melanie Langlotz from Augview and Otorohanga District councillor Roger Brady.

Langlotz said the pair began speculating whether the moa could be a tourist attraction run alongside Kiwi House.

"He suggested I take it to the Otorohanga District Development Board, they gave us funding [$12,000] to develop a prototype app and here we are."

All that's missing now is a major backer, and at least $5000 to get the app released to the public. A Kickstarter webpage has already raised close to $2000 in two days.

Jo Russell, of Otorohanga Zoological Society, had coined the word "edutainment" for the project.

"The whole idea is to keep it hands-on and interactive, rather then specifically scientific information about the moa like some other parks have gone for. It's kind of edutainment."

As users roam the tree-lined park, more of the digital world appears alongside their own reality. Russell hoped this would improve children's interest in conservation by giving them an experience with extinct creatures of New Zealand.

"We want to create that awe and wonder about how special and unique New Zealand wildlife is."

For development purposes, basic 3D dinosaurs were downloaded from an American site, but they lack the precision and intricate detail of Otorohanga's new resident moa, which Russell said had been named Trevette, after moa expert Trevor Worthy.

Worthy, a paleozoologist, and Kiwihouse wildlife manager Lizzy Perrett, worked closely with Augview to ensure the moa looked and moved authentically.

For the prototype, Augview built a North Island giant moa. Russell said she hoped other species of moa, the extinct Haast Eagle and living species such as kiwi, would eventually roam in virtual worlds in large public spaces around the town.

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- Waikato Times

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