Problem: Too many chickens don't have room to roam around and be happy. Solution: Strap virtual reality headsets onto said chickens so they think they're free-range. No seriously, an assistant professor at Iowa State University seems to think this is a good idea, but he has to be kidding. Right? RIGHT?!
Austin Stewart recently launched a bewilderingly straight-faced website for a project called Second Livestock, a sort of Second Life for farm animals. It would involve outfitting livestock with special Oculus Rift-like devices so that they can enjoy a virtual world of fun and feigned freedom. There's no need for farmers to provide the physical space required for a true free-range experience, you can just fool them. Stewart's is also giving Ted-like presentations to audiences across the Midwest.
But the more you hear about this so-called Virtual Free Range™ idea, (i.e. anything at all) the more obvious it becomes that it's a joke, or at least some weird social experiment. "It's as much about animal husbandry as it is about human husbandry," Stewart said at one of these talks. "We live in little boxes, we work in little boxes, and then we're engaging in these virtual environments more. Why wouldn't chickens choose the same thing?"
All that said, Stewart's playing it all incredibly straight. He is known for his penchant for absurdity, though, and the Second Livestock project fits neatly into a larger portfolio of projects that look at silly technological solutions to simple human problems. It's still funny to imagine the Kentucky Fried Matrix though. [FastCo via TechCrunch]