CZAAWE Resource Article

CATOS (Computer Aided Training/Observing System): Automating animal observation and training
Publication Type 
Journal Article
Year of publication 
Behavior Research Methods
In animal behavioral biology, an automated observing/training system may be useful for several reasons: (a) continuous observation of animals for documentation of specific, irregular events, (b) long-term intensive training of animals in preparation for behavioral experiments, (c) elimination of potential cues and biases induced by humans during training and testing. Here, we describe an open-source-based system named CATOS (Computer Aided Training/Observing System) developed for such situations. There are several notable features in this system. CATOS is flexible and low cost because it is based on free open-source software libraries, common hardware parts, and open-system electronics based on Arduino. Automated video condensation is applied, leading to significantly reduced video data storage compared to the total active hours of the system. A data-viewing utility program helps a user browse recorded data quickly and more efficiently. With these features, CATOS has the potential to be applied to many different animal species in various environments such as laboratories, zoos, or even private homes. Also, an animal's free access to the device without constraint, and a gamified learning process, enhance the animal's welfare and enriches their environment. As a proof of concept, the system was built and tested with two different species. Initially, the system was tested for approximately 10 months with a domesticated cat. The cat was successfully and fully automatically trained to discriminate three different spoken words. Then, in order to test the system's adaptability to other species and hardware components, we used it to train a laboratory rat for 3 weeks.