FORT LAUDERDALE - If you keep your eyes peeled and your phone open, there's a chance that you could end up encountering more than a few Florida panthers -- the endangered animal, not the hockey team -- while exploring the halls of the Museum of Discovery & Science (MODS).
With the launch the "Panther Prowl" Augmented Reality (AR) Experience on Wednesday, the MODS is encouraging all museum patrons to embark on an explorative and educational journey while attempting to locate digital versions of Florida panthers using their brand-new mobile app.
The recipient of a $25,000 Community Champions Grant during the 2018-19 season, the MODS celebrated the launch of "Panther Prowl" by offering free admission to the first 200 fans wearing Panthers gear - this time the NHL team, not their furry namesake - that arrived at the museum.
"Today was the first day of the 'Panther Prowl' at the museum," said Joe Cox, the President & CEO of the MODS. "We're really excited about this new experience that we've been able to do thanks to the Florida Panthers Foundation. It's absolutely amazing.
"One of the great things about the museum is that we're always connecting people to inspiring science. We want people to come through each and every day and learn something, be inspired by science, and then go out and actively help protect nature and help protect the environment."
Named the state's official animal in 1987, the Florida panther is one of the most-endangered mammals in the world, with anywhere from 130-230 estimated to currently be living in the wild. By participating in the "Panther Prowl" experience, any number of the MODS' roughly 400,000 yearly visitors can learn more about the animal, while also brushing up on conservation efforts.
"It takes viewers and museum attendees through an amazing journey throughout the museum," said Lauren Simone, the Executive Director of the Florida Panthers Foundation. "They're able to find real panthers through their augmented-reality app. As a team, we wear our shield proudly. It's more than a mascot for us. We feel a responsibility to educate our fans about their plight."
"Panther Prowl" begins with a 10-minute educational video that, while not necessary to use the app, provides a wealth of information that will make finding these AR panthers that much more satisfying. Following the film, museumgoers are then asked to download the MODs mobile app.
Once the app has been downloaded, it's possible to find panthers - and maybe even a kitten if you're lucky - scattered throughout the museum. These big cats show up on users' cellphones through AR technology, which superimposes computer-generated images onto the real world. This experience is the first-ever AR museum and hockey exhibit of its kind.
"We've already seen an amazing response when we were testing this," Cox said. "People just love being able to interact, see the unexpected. For us, this is a really innovative way to keep pushing the forefront of exhibit development in the museum world. Down the road, I think we're going to see a lot more integration of augmented reality and this kind of digital experience."
If you'd like to become an unofficial field biologist and get in on the "Panther Prowl" experience yourself, the MODS is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. The museum is located downtown at 401 SW Second Street in Fort Lauderdale.
"Come help us find all of these panthers," Fox said.
Entering its fourth season, the Community Champions Grant program, which is presented by Moss & Associates, LLC and the Moss Foundation, is committed to donating $5 million to local 501(c)(3) organizations or government agencies serving South Florida over a five-year period.
At each of the club's 41 home games throughout the season, one organization is highlighted. "We are so excited that we just launched for the 2019-20 season," Simone said. "We want to welcome 41 new organizations into our Florida Panthers Foundation family."
To apply for a Community Champions Grant for the upcoming 2019-20 season, click HERE.