Ethoscope with the Raspberry Pi

Although ethoscopes are very popular instruments for detecting or recording the real-time activity of fruit flies, they can potentially be used on other animals as well. The ethoscope platform is actually a collection of interconnected tools that biologists use when designing experiments, to capture and analyze huge amounts of behavioral data.

The ethoscope uses a free and open-source set of tools, both hardware and software. The hardware is a Raspberry Pi (RBPi) while the software is built on top of GNU/Linux and Python. The RBPi also has some custom printed parts.

The ethoscope is capable of real-time video tracking, allowing experimenters to deliver individual stimuli based on the behavior of the animal the biologist is tracking. Simultaneous and effective control of several devices is possible with a modern web-interface. The software package rethomics offers high-throughput and detailed post-hock analysis. The modular design of the ethoscope is straightforward enough to modify both the software and the device, thereby creating new paradigms for experiments. The RBPi based ethoscope is highly scalable and biologists can run multiple and inexpensive ethoscopes in parallel on the same platform.

Using computerized video tracking, the ethoscope uses as its base the small single-board computer, the RBPi, along with a high-definition camera to capture and process in infrared the video with a resolution of 1920×1080 pixels, at 30 frames per second.

Assembling ethoscopes requires a 3-D printed chassis with cables. This produces a footprint of approximately 10x13x20 cm. Although research grade ethoscopes need the 3-D printed chassis, those who simply want to try out can build a fully functional chassis from LEGO bricks or even from folded cardboard, following detailed instructions on the ethoscope website. The LEGOscope or the PAPERscope require only minor technical skills, and are therefore suitable for assembling ethoscope for education and outreach.

Although an RBPi will not help in performing complex brain surgeries, it does help scientists in working out how our minds work. That led researchers to select the low-cost single board computer for conducting experiments and studying neuroscience. The RBPi has the potential to be a machine the scientists use for making groundbreaking discoveries about the mannerisms of the human behavior.

In the Imperial College of London, Dr. Giorgio Gilestro and colleagues first used the RBPi to create the ethoscope. They designed the device to track animal behavior with open-source hardware and software. However, it has a profile for using machine-learning algorithms.

As fruit flies are similar to humans in behavioral and genetic terms, Dr. Giorgio used them for the primary studies. According to the researchers, they can use the ethoscope for studying mental and physical diseases in humans, and the instrument can provide insights into behaviors such as socializing and sleeping.

Earlier, the scientists could only watch the flies manually and score their movements. However, the addition of the RBPi has enhanced the features of the ethoscope and now they can record, process and analyze real-time video, thereby automating the time-consuming process. As the ethoscopes are small, cheap, and easy to maintain, the scientists can study hundreds of flies simultaneously. The RBPis give them enough computer power for analyzing behavior using video imaging.