Towards image-based animal tracking in natural environments using a freely moving camera

Lars Haalck, Michael Mangan, Barbara Webb, Benjamin Risse

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Background Image-based tracking of individual animals can provide rich data to underpin breakthroughs in biological and medical research, but few if any existing methods extend to tracking unconstrained natural behaviour in the field. New method We have developed a visual tracking system for animals filmed with a freely moving hand-held or drone-operated camera in their natural environment. This exploits a global inference method for detecting motion of an animal against a cluttered background. Trajectories are then generated by a novel video key-frame selection scheme in combination with a geometrically constrained image stitching algorithm, resulting in a two-dimensional panorama image of the environment on which the dense animal path is displayed. Results By introducing a minimal and plausible set of constraints regarding the camera orientation and movement, we demonstrate that both per-frame animal positions and overall trajectories can be extracted with reasonable accuracy, for a range of different animals, environments and imaging modalities. Comparison Our method requires only a single uncalibrated camera, does not require marking or training data to detect the animal, and makes no prior assumptions about appearance of the target or background. In particular it can detect targets occupying fewer than 20 pixels in the image, and deal with poor contrast, highly dynamic lighting and frequent occlusion. Conclusion Our algorithm produces highly informative qualitative trajectories embedded in a panorama of the environment. The results are still subject to rotational drift and additional scaling routines would be needed to obtain absolute real-world coordinates. It nevertheless provides a flexible and easy-to-use system to obtain rich data on natural animal behaviour in the field.
Original languageEnglish
Article number108455
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Neuroscience Methods
Volume330
Early online date16 Nov 2019
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jan 2020

Keywords

  • Animal tracking
  • Visual tracking
  • Outdoor field experiments
  • Panorama stitching
  • Projective geometry

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