A research team in the Netherlands 3D printed a robotic zebra finch to see what factors are important when baby finches learn to sing.
The Seeing Voices research consortium is made up of researchers from Leiden University, VU Amsterdam and Freie Universität Berlin, and they have spent the last 4 years working on the robotic bird.
Researchers are studying multimodal communication, where multiple sensory modalities are used to convey information. Multimodal communication is common in nature. From plants using color and fragrance to attract pollinators to humans gesturing while talking, multimodal displays have evolved to increase signal salience, aid species recognition, and enhance cognitive processing of intended receptors. However, the mechanisms underlying the cognitive benefits of multimodal cues are still not fully understood, in part due to challenges in controlling multiple physical modalities in experiments.
Human speech and bird song are learned communication systems that primarily involve auditory sensory and vocal motor modalities. However, speech and song production is often accompanied by simultaneous visual cues, highlighting the importance of multimodal integration of visual and auditory cues in speech processing. Robotic models allow researchers to control and mimic animal behaviors in realistic 3D environments, allowing for the study of artificial stimulus combinations and the evaluation of how multimodal signal receptors process different components.
While robotic models have already demonstrated the influence of multimodal signaling and cueing on receptors in non-additive ways, improved approaches are needed to understand the mechanisms and operation involved with multimodal signaling, particularly in early and late sensory learning. life and memory formation.
Therefore, RoboFinch was created, to see how the movement of the real life bird, when combined with the colors of the bird, affects the way that baby finches learn to sing. The researchers used high-speed cameras to film and then precisely measured the zebra finches’ beak movements to make an exact copy, then placed the robot among the baby finches.
“Like children, young zebra finches start out by babbling. They listen to the song of other birds, memorize it and start practicing”, says Katharina Riebel, a researcher at the Leiden Institute of Biology (IBL).
“To investigate when and how birds learn, researchers have mostly played birdsong through loudspeakers. This was sometimes combined with a screen, but it didn’t go beyond 2D. However, there is much more to singing, such as bill and throat movements and posture. This could be the reason why young birds learn less from a speaker than from another bird.”
When placed with RoboFinch, the young birds showed interest in and listened to the robotic bird as it began to move and play birdsong, demonstrating the potential for studying the importance of visual movements in vocal learning.
The researchers plan to continue exploring the components of bird song and make RoboFinch interactive for future experiments.
You can read the full article in the Methods in Ecology and Evolution journal, at this link.
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