A new video camera system that reveals the world through animals’ eyes

With over 90% accuracy.


How animals see the world has been a fascinating question for scientists. Each animal has special eye cells that can detect different kinds of light, from ultraviolet to infrared. This helps them survive in their environment.

Even though we can measure colors scientifically, we need to see how these colors change over time. Scientists want to visit the world through their eyes to understand how animals talk to each other or find their way.

Traditional methods, like taking pictures, need help. They take a long time, require specific lights, and need help to capture moving things well. To solve this, researchers developed a new camera and software. Scientists also used an associated computational framework that produces animal-view videos, with sufficient precision to be used for scientific purposes. This new tool captures the full complexity of visual signals, as perceived under natural contexts, where moving targets may be unevenly illuminated.

It can record videos in four color channels – blue, green, red, and ultraviolet – under natural light. This helps us see the world in action as animals do.

Scientists can turn the recorded data into “perceptual units” to make a video showing how animals actually see colors. They use what they already know about the particular cells in animal eyes. When they tested this new system against the old spectrophotometry method, it was more than 92% accurate in predicting the colors animals see. This means it’s a reliable way to understand the world through an animal’s eyes.

This new camera system is like a door opening for scientists and filmmakers. It lets scientists explore new things, and filmmakers can create videos showing how animals view the world. The system uses cameras that anyone can buy, and it’s put together in a 3D-printed case. The software, the brain behind it all, is open for anyone to use and improve upon.

Senior author Daniel Hanley adds, “We’ve long been fascinated by how animals see the world. Modern techniques in sensory ecology allow us to infer how static scenes might appear to an animal; however, animals often make crucial decisions on moving targets (e.g., detecting food items, evaluating a potential mate’s display, etc.). Here, we introduce hardware and software tools for ecologists and filmmakers to capture and display animal-perceived colors in motion.”

“Using this approach, it is now possible to record moving stimuli—crucially in perceptual units of animal viewers—and study the temporal components of visual signals.”

Journal Reference:

  1. Vasas V, Lowell MC, Villa J, Jamison QD, Siegle AG, Katta PKR, et al. (2024) Recording animal-view videos of the natural world using a novel camera system and software package. PLoS Biol 22(1): e3002444. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.3002444


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