Listening to farmers at the AgriFutures Evoke Ag technology conference, held in Melbourne last week, there was one stand out display and it wasn't yet another big data platform.
Virtual reality had farmers talking, because they could see how it could solve problems for the farming business and their rural communities.
Farmers, their family and their staff travel a lot, for training, for education, for health and even for conversation. To create stronger regions, cutting through the tyranny of distance through digital technologies will be key, not only to allow the regional population to engage with and access information, but also to bring the consumer and the public into the conversation on-farm.
Read more from Evoke Ag:
- Birchip speaks out on big data
- DAS Harvesting your data
- Grasshopper on the menu
- Technology to save the farm
- EvokeAg kicks off
Think Digital, founder, Tim Gentle said while most people hadn't been exposed to virtual reality before, those experiencing it at Evoke Ag could immediately see possible uses for the technology.
"What we do here is collaborative virtual reality, which means we are in VR with other people, so our avatars are literally communicating, we can use voice, hand gestures and body movement through the avatar," he said.
"You can think of it as the next thing after Skype."
Mr Gentle said the technology could allow farmers to attend events an expos without having to physically travel, saving time, energy and money.
"Part of the virtual tour we are conducting here allows people to attend a virtual field day," he said.
"Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) have a stand in Farm VR World, at the stand you can watch some 360 VR content and learn about the beef and sheep industry.
Virtual bull sale
"We wanted to challenge the status quo, we go to auctions to buy commercial and stud cattle, but why do we need to physically go to the auction if we can experience it in virtual reality.
"We got a real droughtmaster bull, took four or five photos and some video, then digitally rebuilt the bull in virtual reality, so you can see the bull as a 3D rendered animated object."
Mr Gentle said using VR for training and education had a number of benefits over the use of phone conferencing and webinars, including increased engagement as the teacher could tell when the students were paying attention through body language.
Meeting in a 360 degree environment also opened up possibilities he said, such as being able to examine a three dimensional model of a tractor design, or demonstrate how to artificially inseminate a cow.
"We are working with Rural Industries Skills Training, they approached us because they wanted to use VR with students.
"They have students scattered across the country, it is taking online learning to a whole new level, it is an immersive experience."
Mr Gentle said not only could VR bring down the cost constraints of training, it could make it easier for people in remote areas to access education and to experience new things.
"It's not only cost effective, it also gives you access to things you might not be able to see, such as abattoirs or farm tours," he said.
Mr Gentle said virtual reality also helped breakdown situations where there are language barriers.
"We are able to use google translate to have real-time conversations across the globe," he said.
"That person could be in Zimbabwe, North America or anywhere, we have had collaborations across the globe."