Virtual Reality gives one unprecedented flexibility in investigating the complex sensory and feedback mechanisms of behaviour. Working together with Prof. Dr. Iain Couzin and the Couzin lab (Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, Department of Collective Behaviour, University Konstanz), we constructed an integrated virtual reality laboratory for studying the mechanisms of collective behaviour in freely swimming fish.
Based on the open-source and peer-reviewed FreemoVR software, and extending upon the fish VR systems built in the Straw and Tessmar-Raible labs, we developed a customized and complete VR system for behavioural biologists. This included:
- Support and training. We provided personal introductions to VR and to its use as a research tool.
- Complete documentation. We included sample experiments and examples for visual modeling of virtual conspecifics.
- Simple user interface. All systems are controllable via a simple web based GUI which allows control of experiments, live view of behaving animals, recording of experimental metadata and monitoring of environmental conditions (temperature etc).
- Automated analysis pipeline. After each VR experiment all behavioural data is analysed and a selection of summary figures are automatically generated. In addition, raw experimental data is prepared and can be easily downloaded and analysed by the scientists using familiar tools.
- Examples of analysis of the behavioural data obtained from VR experiments. We supplied sample scripts in R. Python, and MATLAB.
We supplied 5 FishVR systems. Each FishVR system uses a custom silent and passively cooled PC to minimize disturbances to the fish contained within. While the systems are designed to be controlled remotely using the web interface, each system also has an integrated display indicating if an experiment is running, and the tracked 3D position of the fish currently undergoing an experiment.These photos show the system in action (TL to BR):
- View from below. Visible is the translucent bowl onto which VR is projected
- Front panel detail showing LCD display and silent PC
- Each assay is fitted with a light-tight removable door
- The systems are stand-alone, requiring only power and a network connection