One of the most useful, yet also most potentially frustrating, tools for ethologists is the handheld ethogram device. This pocket computer has re-programmable buttons that allow a researcher to capture details of organismal behavior including action type, order, frequency and duration.
The challenge in using a handheld ethogram is its un-intuitive interface. The design of the device parallels that of a calculator, with columns and rows of buttons are arranged in a grid.
This input organization makes sense in regards to space use on a rectangular device, but carries little to no meaning for a human attempting to quickly catalog a variety of different behaviors and events. The result is a tool that is potentially useful, but is also often confusing and frustrating to operate. The nature of the handheld device also occupies a researcher’s hands, preventing them from doing other activities like taking pictures or looking through binoculars. Finally, the types of data to input often limited to only tapping discrete, already programmed actions.
Our team’s solution to these ethogram challenges is the EthoSmock!
This wearable device has the same basic function of the traditional handheld ethogram, but keeps a researcher’s hands free while also allowing for capture of richer information like voice memos and GPS. Additionally, the placement of buttons along the body leverage advantages of embodied cognition, so that the user might learn the locations faster and the interaction has the capability of being more fun to use.
Here’s a short commercial “skit” describing its use!
When designing the wearable aspect of the Etho-smock, we considered several factors critical for successful and convenient field use.
Device needs to be lightweight
Comfortable in the heat
No interference with natural body motion (i.e. not tangled in arms or legs)
Compatible with field work
able to be worn standing, sitting, or squatting
able to wear simultaneously with backpack
easy to transfer device between users in the field
packability, can be compressed
We ultimately decided to pursue a smock inspired design.
This allows the device to be transferred easily from one researcher to another by simply lifting it over the head of the user. It can be worn simultaneously with a backpack.
We made the smock with a mesh. This made the device lightweight and breathable for the user to wear and we were able to weave the wires connecting the buttons to the microcontroller into the material of the smock.
Laura working on the smock in the field.
The buttons were two pieces of conductive fabric separated by a mesh with a hole in it. When the button is ‘pushed’ the conductive fabric on either side of the mesh touches and the circuit closes. An LED flashes to let the user know the days point was collected and the data point is written to an SD card, recording the timestamp and the button that is pushed.
To further develop the etho-smock, we would like to incorporate a playback feature, alternative data collection options, such as pressing a button related to the location of the animal behavior.
— Paul, Laura, Katelyn
Paul, Laura, and Katelyn with the Etho-Smock in the field. Echo-Smock was largely constructed in the field on a dress form/biologist sized tree.