Sarah Webber

Profile and research project

The ultimate goal of this project is to look at how technology can improve the enrichment that’s offered to orang-utans, so primarily at this stage we’re thinking about those complex problems – problem solving and the sorts of challenges they would have to look at in the wild. Orang-utans like to know what’s happening on the visitors’ side of the glass, and interacting with visitors could be an important form of enrichment for them. I chose to undertake a PhD at Melbourne because I knew I would be part of a network of experts who would be supportive of my research. I am really quite lucky in my research group to feel part of a community and turn to people if I have questions.

Sarah Webber

Research department: Department of Computing and Information Systems (SocialNUI)
Name of research project: Kinecting with orang-utans

What is their research about?

Sarah Webber is part of a team working with Zoos Victoria and SocialNUI to explore how digital technology and user-centred design can improve animal welfare and enrichment. Using interactive projection that works like a touchscreen, Sarah’s team gives Melbourne orang-utans the opportunity to play games that challenge their minds, from painting applications to picture galleries.

As part of the trial, the team created a shared space where orang-utans could choose to interact safely with keepers and even visitors through games, creating a powerful sense of connection for the human player.

Sarah hopes to better understand the zoo as a context for human-computer interaction (HCI) research, and develop design methodologies for non-human users.