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 facility 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.


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

July-September 2023

Flying insects rely on vision for controlling and stabilising their flight. In nature, this information is highly dynamic, presenting a challenge for insect brains to extract reliable and relevant information from it. To understand how they master this challenge, we must consider the contribution of behaviour to sensory acquisition: as senses guide an animal’s movements, the movements in turn shape the sensory input. Thus, active behavioural strategies might aid acquisition of visual information, which can be particularly important in challenging light environments: in very dim light, or when light levels change suddenly. To reveal these strategies, we study how the visual environment impacts the animals’ flight performance.

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May-June 2023

With more than 25 self-organized robocars, Liang Li and his team aim to test the potential scalability a behaviour control rule inspired by the pursuit behaviour of zebrafish in virtual reality. Their intention is 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 are also testing how air flow turbulence affects a drone's decision-making process using biological decision-making rules.

Further information

March 2023

The biggest project so far in the Imaging Hangar 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.

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 is testing whether this aggregation behaviour can be replicated and studied in a large experimental area.

November 2022

In November 2022 Luke Costello, Mark Bugden, and Vishwanath Varma were running 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 behavior of locust swarms in lab settings by increasing the size of the arena and number of individuals. In the current experiment they were using roughly 2000 locusts in a 2m diameter arena with the goal of scaling up to roughly 10000 locusts in a 5m diameter arena.

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

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.

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 ability 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.

Imaging Hangar Technician

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