December 2, 2023


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Revolutionizing animal behavior studies using the latest technology

Revolutionizing animal behavior studies using the latest technology

summary: Unveiled SMART-BARN, a state-of-the-art facility for the study of collective animal behavior.

Housed in an 18th-century barn and photography barn the size of a gymnasium, this tool uses high-throughput technologies such as visual 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 an acronym for Scalable Multimodal Arena for real-time tracking of animal behavior in large numbers.
  2. This technology can monitor hundreds, or even thousands, of animals at a time, depending on their size.
  3. The system is interdisciplinary, developed by biologists, physicists, engineers and computer scientists, and has already been applied to study various species including pigeons, starlings, moths, bats and humans.

source: Konstanz University

Researchers from the Center for Excellence Group for the Advanced Study of Collective Behavior (CASCB) and the Max Planck Institute for Animal Behavior have converted a former barn into a high-tech 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 swarm 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 highly controlled, but often unrealistically simplified and small, environments in the laboratory, or under largely uncontrolled conditions in the wild.

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

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Both are available in an 18th-century barn at the Max Planck Institute for Animal Behavior in Mugengen 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 developed a tool called SMART-BARN.

SMART-BARN is an acronym for A scalable multimedia arena for tracking animal behavior in real time 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, group co-speaker, Ian Kosin, and colleagues, they developed SMART-BARN.

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

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

Users of the new facility will have the flexibility to perform different experimental models 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 repertoire of behavior because animals have more space,” says computer scientist Himal Naik. Depending on the size of the animals, the facility can host 100 animals at a time and expand the possibility of experimenting with new species not normally studied in indoor settings.

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“In fact, we’ve now scaled this up to work with several thousand animals,” adds Cozen. “We recently did 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 pleased because: “The facility is forming important new multi-disciplinary collaborations.”

He continues: “For example, SMART-BARN provides the ability to track the 3D gaze and posture 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 a larger system in the imaging barn of the University of Konstanz to track swarms of robots or thousands of insects,” says Ian Kosin.

“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. Therefore, the team invites researchers around the world to connect with them and plan experiments.

About Behavioral Neuroscience Research News

author: Helena Dietz
source: Konstanz University
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 numbersBy 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.