If you’ve ever wanted a pet Arctic fox, well, keep dreaming. But Google is offering the next best thing. The company’s AR animals feature announced five new additions to its library on Tuesday, including the fox and other wild creatures from the Arctic and sub-Arctic.
In addition to the fox, the new animals are the lynx, white-backed woodpecker, harbor porpoise, and moss carder bee. The project was done in collaboration with the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation (Naturskyddsföreningen). All these critters are on Sweden’s Red List of vulnerable, threatened, and endangered species. While all these animals are impacted by the rapidly changing climate in Sweden and the Arctic, the Arctic fox is especially vulnerable to hotter temperatures, as their habitat is getting pushed farther north and their prey changes. These new animals also come as Google is rolling out a set of various sustainability initiatives for customers, including carbon-efficient routes on Google Maps.
I’m normally kind of a cynic with these things, but I had a lot of fun playing around with my new AR friends. Like the rest of the animals in the Google AR feature, these critters are all accessible via the Google Search app (you can find the model creatures if you Google them, but the AR feature doesn’t work unless you have the app). After Googling the animal on the app, a box comes up as an option that allows you to “meet a life-sized” version of the animal “close up.”
Selecting that option lets you hang with Arctic wildlife in the comfort of your own home. This portion requires a bit of fiddling and waving your phone around your room to allow it to absorb what your space looks like, and the app is a little choosy about where it wants to put the animal (I had a porpoise floating above my couch for about five minutes), but it should eventually land on a spot.
The scale of the lynx was especially impressive—who doesn’t want to have a lynx as a buddy?—and felt kind of like I was a powerful witch inviting an animal familiar into my home. (“In the 17th century, there were so many lynxes in the Stockholm area that the king could hunt right outside the city gates,” the Naturskyddsföreningen site says. Awesome.)
The Arctic fox, meanwhile, showed up in my space as smaller than my dog when compared to my furniture, which surprised me. So dainty!
The effect was, in my opinion, kind of lost on the bumblebee and the woodpecker, both of which are much smaller creatures and thus required me to move my phone and zoom in a little to really see their details. Still cool, but a little bit less impressive, given that one of the really cool things about this feature is seeing how the animal stacks up with your interior decor.
This might be beyond the scope of the app’s features, but I also wish that there was some way to convey information about the endangered status of these species, or the specific threats they face from human-caused climate change while you were checking them out in your living room. Someone Googling “porpoise” might skim right past the articles on the changing ocean landscape in the search. But giving them a prompt to learn more about the threats facing the animal as they watch it swim through their bedroom may be more of an incentive for learning—and then using that knowledge to pressure politicians to act to cut emissions before these majestic creatures disappear in the real world.