Häagen-Dazs ice cream and HTC Vive are giving you a chance to fly like a bee in VR.
In 2015, the United Nations established a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) including ambitious aims to end poverty, create affordable energy systems, and improve global quality of education. In response, Taiwanese VR company HTC Vive provided $10 million to kick start a VR for Impact initiative that funds VR projects and solutions to help the UN reach its goals by the 2030 deadline.
One of these VR for Impact projects that received funding last year was created with the intention of raising awareness about the dire plight of bees and hopefully inspire users to action. “The Extraordinary Honeybee” is directed by Jason Zada, best known for his 2016 horror film “The Forest” and for creating the popular holiday “Elf Yourself” experience.
Filmed in Chowchilla, CA on the orchard where Häagen-Dazs grows all of its almonds, “The Extraordinary Honey Bee” is an immersive experience in which you assume the perspective of a honey bee to learn about the dire circumstances facing bees and the crops they pollinate. Bees are disappearing at an alarming rate. Scientists have not reached a consensus as to the cause of what is being called Bee Colony Collapse, but we know that certain pesticides like neonicotinoids and changing climate affecting delicate ecosystems could be among the factors killing bees.
Alison Baker is the Manager of Corporate & Brand Affairs for Nestlé USA, which owns Häagen-Dazs. A major advocate for bees and a proponent of this project, Baker said the VR experience “takes you on a journey to learn about the impact bees have on our world, their plight, and how we can make a change to save them.”
Baker explained that VR allowed the team to “tell a more personal story for viewers to inspire sustainable change,” she said. “By leveraging VR’s innate ability to create empathy in its audience, the goal is to educate people about the honey bees’ plight and teach them how they can be part of the solution.”
Director Zada agrees that the technology is ideal to tell this kind of story. “It’s a perfect medium to immerse people in and really grab their attention,” he said. “I had the idea of shrinking someone down to the size of a honey bee in order to go on a journey quite like we haven’t seen before. VR provides an incredible amount of immersion to really put the viewer right in the middle of the story.”
Häagen-Dazs has been involved in the fight to save bees for years, which makes sense considering key ice cream ingredients such as chocolate, nuts, and strawberries rely on bees for pollination. In addition to donating over $1 million over the last 10 years to bee conservation work, the company has given out free ice cream cones in the name of our pollinators and created the new flavor “Honey Salted Carmel Almond” in honor of bees.
“Honey bees are responsible for one-third of the foods we eat,” said Josh Morton, Corporate Communications Team Lead for Nestlé. “And nearly half of our Häagen-Dazs ice cream flavors include ingredients that depend on honey bee pollination.”
The Brooklyn-founded ice cream company marketed and produced “The Extraordinary Honey Bee”, which was introduced at the 2017 Sundance Festival. The VR experience was later released in July 2017 and received the Social Good Award for Best in Animal & Wildlife.
“The Extraordinary Honey Bee” is one part of a larger program called Häagen-Dazs Loves Honey Bees, created in 2008. As part of that program, Häagen-Dazs collaborated in late 2016 with the Xerces Society to install one of the largest, privately funded pollinator habitats in the world on an almond farm in California’s Central Valley. The result is the very bee-friendly habitat in Chowchilla where this VR experience was created. It consists of 6.5 miles of hedgerow and 11,000 native drought-tolerant shrubs and flowering plants and impacts 840 acres of farmland.
Zada, HTC Vive and the Häagen-Dazs team worked well together, according to the director. He said the ice cream company “has been dedicated to saving the honey bees for many, many years, so it was exciting to bring the initiative to life in virtual reality.”
“We all knew that we had to push the boundaries of a traditional advertisement and go deeper into storytelling in order to engage an audience,” Zada said.
VR for Impact also funds other environmental awareness projects such as “Tree” which premiered at last year’s Sundance Festival. According to its website, this unique VR experience “transforms you into a rainforest tree. With your arms as branches and your body as the trunk, you’ll experience the tree’s growth from a seedling into its fullest form and witness its fate firsthand.”
A new project that the VR for Impact initiative chose to invest in for the upcoming year is OrthoVR, a joint project by Nia Technologies and the Critical Making Lab at the University of Toronto which uses 3D and VR design tools to increase access to functional prosthetic limbs for low-income communities.
As of July 2017, “The Extraordinary Honey Bee” is available on HTC’s Viveport app store and on various brand and social channels in support of honey bee campaigning. It will be officially released to the public this summer in celebration of the 10th anniversary of Häagen-Dazs’ bee campaign. VR For Impact is currently accepting grant applications for VR projects that address the UN SDGs.
The potential of VR technology to make an impact in many industries is undeniable, but projects like “The Extraordinary Honey Bee” are proving to the world that VR can impact social good, too. Through education and the unique perspective of a bee, Häagen-Dazs and the VR For Impact fund are, as Baker puts it, working to “better support native bee population and help keep these little heroes buzzing.”