The VR goggles aren't props for a film, however. They have been specially made for these dairy cows to help them relax in order to produce more milk, according to a press release from Moscow's Ministry of Agriculture and Food.
At least, that's what was reported in a press release from Moscow's Ministry of Agriculture and Food. But it turns out there are some reasons to be skeptical.
VR headsets as a useful productivity tool
As many sources (Interesting Engineering included) reported, the pressing issue of declining milk production led experts from the IT world, as well as industry leaders in milk production to work together to find a high-tech solution.
That solution was virtual reality, where cows can watch a “unique summer field simulation program.” According to Agricultural Safety and Health, cows have poor depth perception. Creating a VR landscape that cows could navigate meant researchers had to take into account their higher perception of the color red, but weaker perception of blues and greens.
In order to develop the simulation, researchers considered what contributed to a positive emotional state for cows. They looked at examples of dairy farms around the world and concluded that a calm atmosphere resulted in more milk production.
These VR goggles themselves were carefully designed by developers in a VR studio, alongside veterinarians. Taking into account the structural features of the cows' heads, the typically human-fitting VR goggles were adapted to work for cows.
After wearing their headsets, experts reported that the cows displayed a decrease in anxiety and an increase in the general mood of the herd. Today, the farm ranks within the top three largest milk producers in the Russian Federation.
This all sounds almost too out there to be true. In fact, it's near-impossible to find any updated information on the promised “further comprehensive study.”
As Vice reported in 2019, the original press release says the experiment was conducted by “Milknews.ru,” a news site for the Russian dairy industry. The press release also encourages readers to sign up for the upcoming “VI International Agro-Industrial Dairy Forum." In which case, this could easily be a marketing stunt to promote the conference.
Vice reached out to Milknews, the Moscow Ministry of Agriculture and Food, and Rusmoloko, but didn't seem to get an answer.
The newest information seems to be in Dairy Global, which notes that, as of 2020, RusMoloko was expanding – and VR headsets weren't part of the plan. In fact, they supposedly never existed at all.
"RusMoloko has nothing to do with the news about using VR for controlling cows' mood," Elena Firsova, spokeswoman for RusMoloko told Dairy Global.
Still, the science is sound – happy cows do produce more high-quality milk, no VR required. For instance, in some American dairy farms, farmers install rotating brushes in the cows' stalls, which provide an alternative to massaging the animals. In Europe, farmers use robotic systems that enable the cows to roam more freely and broadly. And in Russia, some farms play classical music on loudspeakers around the farm, which supposedly soothes the cows. All of these methods have been demonstrated to help the cows to relax, and provide more milk.
Still, it seems we're a long way off from seeing flocks of sheep, herds of cows, and sounders of swine moving about with VR goggles.
Editor's Note: An original version of this article reported the VR goggles announcement as fact. It has since been updated to include skepticism about the claims.