Camera system allows us to see the world through an animal’s eyes

International researchers have developed a camera system that can produce videos that replicate the colours different animals see the world with. Different animals see a different range of colours, and sometimes can see colours we can’t, such as honeybees and birds that can see UV light. The researchers say their camera simultaneously records video in four colour channels; blue, green, red and UV, and this data can be processed using what we know about how animals see the world to produce accurate representations of their view.

Funder: This work was supported by the National
Geographic Society (NGS-64350T-19 to DH, DF,
and NL), the Office of Research, Innovation, and
Economic Impact at George Mason University (to
DH and DK), as well as George Mason’s Office of
Student Scholarship, Creative Activities, and
Research (to AS). Additional support was provided
by Blandy Experimental Farm (to DH, QDJ, and
JV). DF and NL received financial compensation for
their time and expenses through the National
Geographic Society. The funders had no role in
study design, data collection and analysis, decision
to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Media release

From: PLOS

New video camera system captures the colored world that animals see, in motion

Open-source camera and software system records natural animal-view videos with over 90% accuracy

A new camera system allows ecologists and filmmakers to produce videos that accurately replicate the colors that different animals see in natural settings, Vera Vasas at the University of Sussex, UK, and colleagues from the Hanley Color Lab at George Mason University, US, report in the open access journal PLOS Biology, publishing January 23rd.

Different animals perceive the world differently because of the capabilities of the photoreceptors in their eyes. For example, animals like honeybees and some birds can see UV light, which are outside the range of human perception. Reconstructing the colors that animals actually see can help scientists better understand how they communicate and navigate the world around them. False color images give us a glimpse into this dynamic world, but traditional methods such as spectrophotometry are often time consuming, require specific lighting conditions, and cannot capture moving images.

To address these limitations, researchers developed a novel camera and software system that captures animal-view videos of moving objects under natural lighting conditions. The camera simultaneously records video in four color channels: blue, green, red and UV. This data can be processed into “perceptual units” to produce an accurate video of how those colors are perceived by animals, based on existing knowledge of the photoreceptors in their eyes. The team tested the system against a traditional method that uses spectrophotometry and found that the new system predicted perceived colors with an accuracy of over 92%.

This novel camera system will open new avenues of research for scientists, and allow filmmakers to produce dynamic, accurate depictions of how animals see the world around them, the authors say. The system is built from commercially available cameras, housed in a modular, 3D-printed casing, and the software is available open-source, allowing other researchers to use and build on the technology in the future.

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 that can capture and display animal-perceived colors in motion.”


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