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Animal behavior is studied in a smart barn

Animal behavior is studied in a smart barn

ELTE behavioral researcher Dr. Matti Nagy, along with colleagues, has created a special smart-technology-based smart enclosure near Konstanz, Germany, where the complex behavior of groups of animals can be studied in unprecedented detail. With the help of special sensors installed in the smart barn, animal behavior can be examined more accurately than ever before and through multiple information channels at the same time.

A major limitation of behavioral research is that researchers are able to study animal behavior in the laboratory—a highly controlled but often highly simplified and small environment—or in the wild, under conditions largely out of control. For this reason, it has not previously been possible to study many aspects of behaviour, including some forms of collective behavior – the collective movement of animals and the interactions between them, which form the background of their often complex social lives.

What is required to solve this? First of all, a place where the space is large enough. Secondly, modern technology. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Animal Behavior and Costanz University, in collaboration with the head of the dynamics research group ELKH-ELTE Group, have converted a former stable into a high-tech laboratory for this purpose. for complex behavioral analysis, in which they can study the complex behavior of groups of animals – a recent report in an article in the prestigious journal Science Advances.

This new facility, called SMART-BARN, is being used to conduct a comprehensive examination of animal group behavior. The video can also be viewed with Hungarian subtitles.

SMART-BARN is also an English acronym that stands for Scalable Multimedia Arena for real-time behavior monitoring of a large number of animals. “This is a new tool that makes it possible to study the complex behavioral characteristics of individuals or the interactions between groups of animals, such as insects, birds and mammals,” says Matti Nagy, Head of the Behavior Research Group at the Dynamic ELKH-ELTE Group. Ian Cosin, a member of the Department of Biological Physics at ELTE, who developed SMART-BARN with Hemal Naik, computer scientist and institute director, among others. The team was very diverse: biologists, physicists, engineers and computer scientists developed it together.

Markings placed on pigeons are used to study group behaviour. Tags placed on animals do not cause any painSource: Christian Ziegler

“We use high-throughput measurement technologies, such as visual and acoustic tracking, with which we can study the exact location and posture of animals in 3D, and even calculate where they are looking,” explains Matti-Nagy. Benefit from the modular system By taking advantage of its nature, they can flexibly perform a variety of experiments.

Does size matter?

“SMART-BARN is designed to increase the range of typical indoor behavioral experiments in terms of area, volume, measured behavioral traits, and group size,” says Himal Naik, adding, “This means researchers can measure a behavioral repertoire like never before.” Because there is enough space for the animals.” The facility – depending on the size of the animals – It can accommodate up to 100 animals at a time, and expands the possibility of testing new species that are not normally tested in an indoor environment.

“In fact, we can scale it up to work with thousands of animals. We recently did a study in the Imaging Hangar where we tracked 10,000 locusts. This would have been impossible without SMART-BARN technology,” adds Ian Cousin.


SMART-BARN has already been used in many different experiments involving subjects as diverse as pigeons, starlings, butterflies, bats, and even humans. “Through the facility, important new interdisciplinary collaborations are created. For example, SMART-BARN offers the possibility to track the 3D view and posture of birds in a group of ten or more, while the experimenters know which bird it is at all times.” This technology is used by Researchers can use them to explore the role of gaze in decision making,” explains Himal Naik.

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In addition to animal behavior research, computer scientists are also using SMART-BARN to develop new algorithms based on computer vision and artificial intelligence that, among other things, facilitate 3D tracking of unmarked animals. “Our method has led to a larger system in the imaging coop at the University of Konstanz that can track swarms of robots or thousands of insects,” says Ian Cosin.

“Overall, the application possibilities are so diverse that they are limited only by our imagination,” concludes Matti-Nagy, and the team envisions the facility as a collaborative place where researchers from around the world can jointly delve into intriguing questions about group behavior.

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