Wednesday, January 25, 2012

New Scientist TV - Game on, Babe: iPads hit the pigpen

Forget Angry Birds: a new iPad game called Pig Chase could allow you to interact with real animals. Designed by Clemens Driessen and a team from Wageningen University and Utrecht School for the Arts in the Netherlands, the app aims to challenge pigs while creating a collaborative environment for play.
The current concept, which is still in development, requires pigs and humans to team up in order to guide a ball of light to a target. While pigs interact with a huge touch-sensitive screen in their pen, their human counterpart uses an iPad. A translucent display on the tablet allows a player to see their porcine teammate as if it were on the other side of the screen. When finger and snout reach a triangle together, it triggers a colourful, sparkling display.
Current EU regulations mandate enrichment programs for pigs to combat aggression and boredom in the pen. However, the typical assortment of toys does little to engage them and tail docking remains routine to control nipping. By working with farmers, the team was inspired when pigs were responsive to light dancing on a wall. Now they hope to develop the game, incorporating multiple levels and different types of play.
While every piggery may not be able to outfit their operations with interactive touchscreens, Marc Bracke, a team member and animal welfare researcher, contends that their findings could still lead to better care. "It is not as out of touch with reality as it might look," he explains. The high-tech fun should allow researchers to better understand pig welfare and cognition, a trait that has been hard to pinpoint experimentally due to training and motivational difficulties.
Previously, pigs have been trained to play simple video games using a joystick in an attempt to improve their living conditions. A duo called Omlette and Hamlet mastered a Pong-like game as quickly as chimps. However, their attention span was much shorter.
If you enjoyed this video, read our feature Apps for apes: Orang-utans want iPads for Christmas.
You may also like to watch gorillas play a ball game or find out more about the gamification revolution, where everything you do could become a game.

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