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Carole Baskin on protecting wild cats with VR and AR

Carole Baskin interviewed for the Immersive Wire. Photo credit: Tom Ffiske.

At times, I have to remind myself that technology needs to serve a purpose. After wandering through the weeds of VR/AR innovation for several years, diving into the deep details of the tech, I have to remember that there is no point to its existence unless it helps. So having calls with passionate entrepreneurs grounds me back, and I touch back on why we are so invested in our work.

Recently I spoke to Carole Baskin, the founder and CEO of Big Cat Rescue. After her catapult into the mainstream spotlight via Tiger King, Ms Baskin focused on innovation as she sought how technology can meet her ideas of protecting tigers. Working closely with Doug Fajardo, the CEO of Xennial Digital, the team sought a future where people can interact and see any sort of endangered species without the need for protective enclosures.

With her team she launched the world’s first AR zoo in 2019, in collaboration with Westfield Shopping Centers, VidPic AR, and Big Cat Rescue. By pointing at specific posts, users can see and virtually pet a wide variety of wild cats – a virtual way to see real-life animals.

As she crosses between two technologies, I asked her which applications she enjoyed using. “Being able to show those things without killing them is a fabulous way to do it,” said Ms Baskin. “And what I love about VR is that it can be everywhere. Anyone with a headset can access it, and I really love that; VR has a way of saving them in the wild.” Though there are barriers as well, as Ms Baskin also feels nauseous with VR applications, as one example.

On asking her where the technology will go, Ms Baskin explored a frictionless future where people can easily access virtual worlds without harming others. “I want this technology to be so easily accessible to so many people that there is not any demand for seeing a wild cat in a cage or in person.” She acknowledges that there needs to be a lot of steps towards it (she remarked, with a chuckle), but once reached it will really benefit animals as a whole.

As a tech-savvy person, she is interested in NFTs and cryptocurrency, announcing their own $CAT coin and series of coins. and NFTs of artwork that the cat created. I remarked that the pieces of artwork have a great story behind them, if they were created by wild cats and sold online.

Finally, I asked her what steps people should take before they go into the VR/AR sphere for the first time. “I think the hardest thing for me is looking for people who can do what was in my head, she remarked. “Finding the people who have the capacity to do what you want to do is the hardest thing.” What this tells me is that the industry is still stuck in its bubble, finding it tricky to identify and reach new business opportunities that match with entrepreneurs with the funding and time to reach new heights.

After the interview, I walked away with the impression that Ms Baskin was a curious person who is identifying technological trends, and thinking carefully about how they can be interwoven together to match her vision for wild cats in the future. With a mix of AR, VR, and NFTs, she is exploring how the technology can be a force of good for the wildlife and protecting animals across the world. But it also struck me that she managed to accrue the information she needed because she was actively networking and went to specific events to accrue her knowledge. Perhaps it’s a case of marrying how the technology can help entrepreneurs like her, and matching that with their vision.