University of Melbourne veterinary lecturer Dr Stuart Barber, who also runs Kennedy Creek Poll Dorsets, Benalla, has helped developed what he calls the 4D virtual farm.
Murdoch University in Perth; Massey University in Wellington, New Zealand; the University of Sydney and the University of Queensland are partners in the project, funded by the Federal government’s Office of Learning and Teaching. Dr Barber, who developed the system with Evan Hallein at the University of Melbourne, said it allowed a “first person” view of farm processes, across seasons, thanks to high-resolution images and video. Students were able to view the virtual reality images through oculus glasses technology.
“The vast bulk of our students - probably 80 per cent for most universities, unless they are particularly aiming at rural students - come from city areas,” Dr Barber said. “A lot of them now don’t have the contacts with farms they might have had 20-30 years ago, so not only do they not come from the country, but they may well not have spent more than a few days on farms in their lives.” Dr Barber said while the four dimensional technology would never replace on-farm visits, it allowed students to grasp the concept of change, over time. “We wanted some way of showing differences between properties, at different times of the year, and different environments,” he said. “It was a way of comparing and contrasting what they have seen and, certainly, I keep taking students out to farms. It’s not trying to replace that, it’s adding to that experience.”
The eleven properties throughout Australia spanned a range from tropical to temperate, including New Zealand, and covered all farming sectors. A series of photographs were taken at particular points on the property, and combined into a single image.
The fourth dimension of time was used to demonstrate changes over seasons, including rainfall data at each location. The images were developed from photos, using multiple Go-Pro cameras or a high quality digital SLR camera with a fish-eye lens, and based on a GPS set up to ensure a seamless panorama.
“Using the 360 degree concept, through time, helps people understand and think about the implications about management based decisions, parasites, pasture base, and looking at outcomes of various processes.
“Being on the farm, whilst in a lecture theatre, we can virtually transport them there for a much lower cost.”