PiSpy, the camera setup designed to make biological observations better


One day, when we were in high school, we biology students were talking about shopping over lunch. We “lab rats” were talking about the tools of the trade, which for most of us include things like gel electrophoresis, restriction endonucleases, and polymerase chain reaction. Not to mention, a guy who studied fire ants said his main tool was a lawn chair, which he put by a dumpster in a supermarket parking lot to view a fire ant colony. That is the charm of field biology.

Ants on Mars. But bad luck for the crickets.

What our colleague [Mike] wouldn’t have cared for something like PiSpy, the automated observational tool for organismal biology by [Greg Pask] from Middlebury College, et al. As discussed in the preprint abstract, an automated imaging platform may hold the key to accurate observations of some organisms, whose behavior may be influenced by the presence of a human observer, or even a graduate student in a lawn chair. . Plus, PiSpy offers all the usual benefits of automation: it doesn’t get tired, it doesn’t take a bathroom break, and it can even work around the clock. PiSpy is based on commonly available components, such as laser-cut plywood and a Raspberry Pi and camera, so it has the added benefit of being cheap and easy to manufacture – or at least it will be when the Pi offering picks up again. PiSpy takes advantage of the Pi’s GPIO pins to allow triggering based on external events or to control peripherals such as lights or servos.

Although built for biological research, there are probably dozens of uses for something like PiSpy. It can be useful for monitoring mechanical test rigs, or perhaps for recording UI changes during embedded device development. Or you can just use it to watch birds at a feeder. The source is all open source, so whatever you make of PiSpy it’s up to you – even if it’s not for looking at fire ants.

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