Traverse Imaging Hangar and view into the empty lab
View into the Imaging Hangar, © Christian Ziegler, Max Planck Institute for Animal Behavior

Imaging Hangar in the VCC

What is the Imaging Hangar?

The Imaging Hangar is a core facility of the Cluster of Excellence Centre for the Advanced Study of Collective Behaviour. This state-of-the-art motion capture area is designed for the study of swarms of insects, small birds and mammals, humans, and robotic collectives. The facility consists of 1,900 observable cubic meters and is an adaptive space that can be used for a variety of projects. The initial idea arose in 2015 and the first experiments were conducted in 2022.

360° tour through the Imaging Hangar

Click on the picture below and explore the Imaging Hangar. While clicking on the blue dots, you can read more about the experiment.


The Imaging Hangar is equipped with the latest motion capture and markerless tracking technologies, making it one of the most advanced facilities of its kind in the world. This allows researchers to study the three-dimensional collective behaviour of animals, humans, and robots in unprecedented detail, providing new insights into the dynamics of collective systems.


The first experiments with ants and locusts were very promising, and the results have already provided valuable new insights into their behaviours. The biggest project so far was the study of a swarm of 10,000 locusts. The researchers follow the movements, organization, and dynamics of these locusts and aim to understand the foraging behaviour in different food distributions and the communication in the swarm when in danger. The experiment should also help to unravel the reasons for locust’s plagues, also known as one of the biblical plagues.

Experiments in the Imaging Hangar

Several hundred locust in an arena

October-December 2023

In late 2023, we once again introduced locusts into the Imaging Hangar with an aim to understand the transition between marching in straight lines and milling in circles. With guidance from our Imaging Hangar technical manager Mathias Günther and help from biology students, we changed the shape and orientation of the arena, as well as light patterns on the roof, in order to identify the factors that affect locust swarms.

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Collage with photos from hawkmoths, the experimental set up in the Imaging Hangar and data

July-September 2023

Flying insects rely on vision to control and stabilize their flight. Natural fluctuations in lighting conditions pose a major challenge for the insect visual system. And an even bigger challenge is presented by artificial lights at night. This experiment by Andrea Gonsek and Anna Stöckl explores the role behaviour plays in sensory acquisition for reliable vision in dynamic light environments.

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Two robocars in the Imaging Hangar  green floor

May-June 2023

With more than 25 self-organized robocars, Liang Li and his team tested the potential scalability of tracking behaviour that occurs in nature. The rules of behaviour were based on the patterns of zebrafish swimming in virtual reality. Their intention was to observe whether a group of robots can exhibit swarm behaviours and assess the robustness of these behaviours by using the same controller and parameters as those utilized in the biological system. Meanwhile, they also tested how air flow turbulence affects a drone's decision-making process using biological decision-making rules.

Further information
Several thousands locusts in an arena

March 2023

The biggest project so far in the Imaging Hangar was the study of a swarm of 10,000 locusts. The researchers followed the movements, organization, and dynamics of these locusts and aim to understand the foraging behaviour in different food distributions and the communication in the swarm when in danger.

Learn more
Two adult locusts

March 2023

Locusts in naturally occurring swarms have recently been shown to form mating aggregations called ‘leks' in which reproductive males form groups that are visited by females for mating. The experiment by Greg A. Sword tested whether this aggregation behaviour can be replicated and studied in a large experimental area.

Several hundred locusts in a big round arena

November 2022

In November 2022 Luke Costello, Mark Bugden, and Vishwanath Varma ran a pilot experiment on locust swarms. Normally, locusts are studied in the lab in small groups of up to 200 animals in small arenas, despite swarming in groups of millions of individuals in the wild. Here they were looking to explore the role that scale plays in observed behaviour of locust swarms in lab settings by increasing the size of the arena and number of individuals. In the current experiment they used roughly 2000 locusts in a 2m diameter arena.

A 20 meter long ant trail set up in the Imaging Hangar

September-October 2022

In the Imaging Hangar, a colony of leaf-cutting ants established a semi-natural, long foraging trail of 30 m. Christoph Kleineidam and his team aimed to study the optimization of trails (ant-routing and obstacle removal) and the optimization of leaf intake to the nest.

Further information
People standing in the Imaging Hangar with robocars on a CASCB banner in the Imaging Hangar

July 2022

Despite decades of advancements in robotics, the capabilities of biological systems remain an elusive performance target. One of the difficulties is that we do not fully understand the mechanisms in biological systems. In a semester course, Liang Li aimed to explain both bio-inspired robotics and how to use these robots to understand biological systems. In the final exam, students had to trace the CASCB name with a robocar they had programmed themselves. The CASCB community was invited to join the event, which took place in the Imaging Hangar.

Further information

How to conduct an experiment in the Imaging Hangar

If you are interested in applying for an experimental time in the Imaging Hangar or similar facilities, please fill in the Imaging Facility Proposal. The Imaging Hangar is open to researchers from around the world, and the CASCB is looking forward to welcoming new scientists to the facility.

Visitor window of the Imaging Hangar with one person from the back in front
View from the visitor window. © Christian Ziegler, Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior

Visiting the Imaging Hangar

In January 2023 the Minister-President of Baden-Württemberg visited the facility to see its innovative technologies and capabilities. He was thoroughly impressed by the use of the Imaging Hangar to study not only animal collectives but also human and robotic collectives, which opens up a whole new realm of research possibilities.

We would like to invite the public to experience the Imaging Hangar as well. Come and take a look through the Imaging Hangar window, located in ZT 7. We also open our doors on special occasions – but swarm experiments have priority.

Overall, the Imaging Hangar is a cutting-edge facility that promises to revolutionize our understanding of collective behaviour. With its advanced technology, flexible design, and expert team of researchers, the Imaging Hangar is sure to make a significant impact on the field of swarm research, for animals, humans, and robots alike.

Portrait of Mathias Günther

Imaging Hangar Technician

For more information on the Imaging Hangar, or to inquire about research there, please contact Mathias Guenther