Software for Primates?

As part of an enrichment program for western lowland gorillas, researchers from York University, Dr. Suzanne MacDonald and Jeannine Holmes, are using touchscreen technology to deliver activities to the gorillas that are both cognitively challenging and engaging.  The technology has been used to provide visual stimuli that they can “scroll” through, providing insight into the types of images gorillas find appealing or captivating.  The technology has also been used to assess food preference and provide them with the opportunity to choose the food they consume.

Jonah Group donated our developers’ time to work with animal researchers at York University’s behavioural psychology group. We wrote software to present a sequence of images to gorillas via a touchscreen interface. Gorillas would be able to navigate through the images themselves. Our software would record and measure the gorilla activity, providing researchers with insight into how long gorillas would spend looking at each image.   This project was an interesting exercise in usability. A touchscreen is capable of more complicated “gestures” than a simple tap, and we needed to anticipate how a gorilla would interact with the screen. Since we were only allowing the gorilla to advance to the next image, we could be very liberal in which UI events to detect and interpret. We tried a couple of different approaches to interpreting the events, and exposed configuration settings so that researchers could tweak them as necessary.

The research project is currently underway at the Toronto Metro Zoo.

The team at Jonah Group has been making software for humans since 2001.

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