Revolutionizing animal behavior studies using the latest technologies

summary: She unveiled SMART-BARN, a state-of-the-art facility for studying the collective behavior of animals.

Housed in an 18th-century barn and a gymnasium-sized photography barn, the facility uses high-throughput techniques such as optical and audio tracking to monitor animals in 3D. This allows researchers to study behaviors and interactions that were previously impossible to capture in laboratory settings.

SMART-BARN is seen as a game-changer in the field, with applications ranging from biology to artificial intelligence.

Key facts:

  1. SMART-BARN is short for Scalable Multimodal Arena for tracking the real-time behavior of animals in large numbers.
  2. This technology can monitor hundreds, or even thousands, of animals simultaneously, depending on their size.
  3. The multidisciplinary system, developed by biologists, physicists, engineers and computer scientists, has already been applied to study various species including pigeons, starlings, moths, bats and humans.

source: University of Konstanz

Researchers from the Center of Excellence for the Advanced Study of Collective Behavior (CASCB) and the Max Planck Institute for Animal Behavior have converted a former barn into a cutting-edge technological laboratory for complex behavioral analysis. Through it, they can now study the complex behavior of animal groups.

The hangar also served as a prototype for the largest flock behavior laboratory at the University of Konstanz: the photography hangar.

To date, SMART-BARN has been used in various experimental use cases involving subjects as diverse as pigeons, starlings, moths, bats and humans. Credit: Neuroscience News

A major limitation of behavioral research is that scientists can either study animals under tightly controlled, but often unrealistically small, environments in the laboratory, or under largely uncontrolled conditions in the wild.

This has limited our ability to study many aspects of behavior, including collective behavior, that is, the movements and interactions between animals that underlie their complex social lives. What is needed to address this? First, a place with plenty of space. Secondly, modern technology.

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Both are available in the 18th-century barn at the Max Planck Institute for Animal Behavior in Mogengen near Konstanz, and now in the Imaging Hangar, a gymnasium-sized hall at the University of Konstanz. Both laboratories are used to closely examine the collective behavior of animals.

To do this in a multidimensional way, researchers from the Cluster of Excellence Center for the Advanced Study of Group Behavior at the University of Konstanz and the Max Planck Institute for Animal Behavior have developed a tool called SMART-BARN.

SMART-BARN is an abbreviation for A scalable multimedia arena for tracking real-time animal behavior in large numbers.

“It is a new tool that allows studying complex behavioral traits of an individual or interactions between groups of animals such as insects, birds or mammals,” says Himal Naik. In collaboration with Matti Nagy, the group’s co-speaker, Ian Cousin, and his colleagues, they developed SMART-BARN.

The team was highly interdisciplinary: biologists, physicists, engineers and computer scientists developed it together.

Máté Nagy explains the tool further: “We use high-throughput measurement techniques such as optical and acoustic tracking, with which we can study the precise location and posture of the animals in 3D and calculate their field of view.”

Users of the new facility will have the flexibility to perform different experimental paradigms by taking advantage of the modular nature of the system.

Why does size matter?

“SMART-BARN is designed to enhance the range of typical indoor behavioral experiments in terms of experimental size, measured behavior traits and group sizes,”

“This means that users can measure previously unseen behavioral repertoires because animals have more space,” says computer scientist Himal Naik. The facility – depending on the size of the animals – can host 100 animals at a time and expands the possibility of experimenting on new species not typically studied in indoor settings.

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“In fact, we have now scaled this up to work with several thousand animals,” Kozin adds. “We recently conducted a study at the Imaging Hangar where we tracked 10,000 plague locusts. This would have been impossible without our SMART-BARN technology.”


To date, SMART-BARN has been used in various experimental use cases involving subjects as diverse as pigeons, starlings, moths, bats and humans.

Naik is excited that: “The facility is forging important new interdisciplinary collaborations.”

He continues: “For example, SMART-BARN provides the ability to track the 3D gaze and position of birds in a group of ten or more while preserving their identity. Researchers are using this technology to explore the role of gaze in decision making.”

Computer scientists are using the same technology to design new computer vision and AI-based algorithms that facilitate 3D tracking of animals without attaching any tags to them.

“Our method has led to the creation of a larger system at the University of Konstanz’s photography hangar to track swarms of robots or thousands of insects,” says Ian Cousin.

“In short, its range of applications is only limited by our ability to come up with experimental ideas,” says Matti Nagy.

The team envisions the facility as a collaborative space where researchers from around the world can contribute to exploring behavioral questions. The team therefore invites researchers around the world to contact them and plan experiments.

About behavioral neuroscience research news

author: Helena Dietz
source: University of Konstanz
communication: Helena Dietz – University of Konstanz
picture: Image credited to Neuroscience News

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Original search: Open access.
SMART-BARN: A scalable multimedia arena for tracking real-time animal behavior in large numbers“By Matti Nagy et al. Advancement of science

a summary

SMART-BARN: A scalable multimedia arena for tracking real-time animal behavior in large numbers

SMART-BARN (Scalable Multimodal Arena for Real-Time Tracking of Behavior of Animals in Large Numbers) achieves fast and robust acquisition of movement, behaviour, communication and interactions between animals in groups, within a large (14.7 m by 6.6 m by 3.8 m), 3D environment Using multiple information channels.

Behavior is measured across a wide range of taxa (insects, birds, mammals, etc.) and body size (from moths to humans) simultaneously.

This system integrates multiple simultaneous measurement technologies, including sub-millimeter accuracy, high-speed motion capture (300 Hz), audio recording and localization, automated behavior recognition (computer vision), and remote computer-controlled interactive units (at For example, automatic feeders and animal feeders). mobile devices).

Data streams are available in real time, allowing for highly controlled, behavior-based closed-loop experiments, while producing comprehensive datasets for offline analysis.

The diverse capabilities of SMART-BARN are demonstrated through three challenging avian case studies, highlighting its broad applicability to the fine-grained analysis of collective animal behavior across species.

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