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We could give them a game where the difficulty of the game goes up, and it gets harder to see the image on the screen. If the high score goes down, and the animal is equally motivated to use the game, then the problem could be the vision system. By giving animals fun tasks that they can enjoy that also examine different parts of their body, we may be able to do several diagnostics that don’t involve scanning or taking a sample, just the animal playing a game.” Developing the video games stemmed from an Undergraduate Research Scholars project conducted by Woodman and Taylor Strange, a senior biomedical sciences student at the time. Strange won the Vice President for Research Award, creating a wide awareness of the project. Since then, the project has flourished and potential for commercialization has been pursued. To explore the market, Woodman and Brightsmith were invited to participate in an entrepreneur training course sponsored by the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Innovation Corps Program. “We figured out that the idea we have is definitely fit for commercialization,” Brightsmith said. “There’s a need out there in the real world for this sort of technology.” The researchers were given $50,000 through the NSF to identify customer needs. They interviewed 127 bird owners and animal keepers and found a need for this technology. “Our research showed that, in fact, there’s a market among bird owners for a technology like this,” Brightsmith said. Woodman added, “If we are successful with birds we will consider cross-over markets. Zookeepers indicated that they’d love a game that was fun and automatically taught the animals to walk into a crate or chute for medical care or enclosure repairs.” The researchers will soon be conducting additional market research where birds and bird owners can interact with the game and provide additional feedback to make the design more user-friendly and resilient to wear and tear. Researchers are hopeful these improvements will lead to an even bigger impact in the future. Pets and animals kept in captivity would be given a greater opportunity for mental and physical stimulation, which could improve their quality of life. “We are a little surprised by how this project is turning out,” Woodman said. “Originally, this was a small side project where we exercised rare birds to make them healthy before their release into the wild. We can still meet that goal, but now we may be able to carry our work beyond the university and make it available to the public.”

Connie Woodman and a quaker parrot

Studies show that parrots can learn to solve math problems, read written words, and invent and use tools. Due to their intelligence and complex social needs, parrots require toys and attention from people or other birds throughout the day, which can be a challenge to provide. The research at the CVM may help keep pets entertained while also improving their health. Parrots are susceptible to boredom, so it is important to provide them with plenty of toys and companionship. A lack of mental stimulation and physical movement can lead to many health conditions, such as obesity and selfplucking of feathers. By designing video games that will mentally and physically challenge parrots while their owners are away, researchers at the CVM are hopeful their games will aid as a supplement in improving bird health.

Connie Woodman Winter 2017 •

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CVM Today - Winter 2017  
CVM Today - Winter 2017  

A semi-annual publication for the faculty, staff, students, alumni, and friends of the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical...