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Students at the University of Adelaide engaging in an animal handling VR experience. Photo: Think Digital

Coronavirus restrictions have increased demand for virtual and augmented reality content as alternative methods to sharing agricultural experiences.

Once seemingly simple outings to a property for practical agricultural work have come grinding to a halt as school and university students study from home.

Think Digital production studio owner Tim Gentle has spent the last few years creating content with industry stakeholders including Meat and Livestock Australia, AuctionsPlus and Elders but the technology has never been more crucial.

Mr Gentle reported a recent increase in people wanting to use immersive technology to market themselves, train staff or engage with students through virtual farm tours.

“It kind of feels a little bit humbling to know that we envisioned this five or six years ago,” he said.

“People thought I was a bit crazy to be honest but now we are seeing a new way to communicate and immersive technologies can alleviate that.”

The technology has already proven itself at the University of Adelaide where last month students underwent animal handling training without leaving the classroom.

Using artificial intelligence and virtual reality, students were placed in a yard full of Droughtmaster cattle and instructed to move and draft animals to understand flight zones. If they stood in the wrong position, they would be kicked.

University lecturer Dr Mandi Carr said about 280 students across four different bachelor degrees would have access to the VR training.

“VR is a great addition to our resources that we can teach with,” she said.

“It never replaces live practical work but it gives an additional element to being able to teach where you can get them to make a fairly significant mistake but teach around that mistake.

“That’s not just the person making the mistake, that’s the others watching too.

“You can take longer, you can make that mistake and keep making it and try to develop your learning around why.

“Then when you get to be able to do live animal pracs your teaching becomes more efficient.”

The technology could be expanded to include other yard work like loading a truck or catching an animal in a crush, she said.

“This is the changing face of education and we are trying to play catch up,” she said.

“Whilst we are trying to be proactive we are actually catching up on what society is expecting of us.”

Think Digital’s work now goes beyond sharing paddock to plate stories.

Rather than take students on an excursion to a Tasmanian property, Think Digital created a virtual farm tour and brought the farm to the students.

A collaboration is in the works with agricultural schools in Western Australia to host an online learning session using virtual farm tours that no longer require the virtual reality headsets and can be experienced on a PC.

Other work includes developing a biosecurity scenario for producers to grow their understanding of how to improve their biosecurity on farm and an augmented reality app that displays other on farm technologies from gate sensors to weather stations.

“We are using immersive technology for productivity gains on farm now,” Mr Gentle said.

“We will see an adoption of how these technologies can be used to make our farm safer, how they can make our employees more efficient and how they can reduce costs and I think that’s where the shift has to come.

“We cant just keep doing fancy lamb videos.”