Cameras and AI offer heartening outlook for chimpanzees

An experiment to measure chimpanzee heart rates using a digital camera and artificial intelligence could help curb cardiovascular disease in the species and provide insights into how their brains develop.

A team of researchers, led by the University of South Australia, used a contact-free technique to gauge cardiac signals from chimpanzees by filming subtle movements in their face or thorax, and monitoring their emotional response to different stimuli.

Using the system, the researchers are confident they can pinpoint early signs of cardiac disease – one of the main causes of death in captive great apes – and flag the endangered animals for treatment.

Seven chimpanzees were filmed in captivity from a short distance at the Wolfgang Koehler Primate Research Centre in Leipzig, Germany.

UniSA engineers were sent the footage and used artificial intelligence to determine the heart rates, which may then help them detect abnormal heart rhythms and potential signs of cardiac issues.

“Our contact-free technique opens up new routes to study primates’ emotional and cognitive states, and may also greatly enhance the health management of a wide range of animal species,” remote sensing engineer Javaan Chahl said.

Researchers also compared how the apes’ heart rates changed when shown videos of aggressive behaviour between chimpanzees from different groups, scenes of chimpanzees eating, and nature videos.

PhD student Danyi Wang said the apes’ heart rates increased when viewing footage of chimps fighting and feeding, and slowed when looking at nature scenes.

“Heart rate changes can be linked to emotional responses, mental effort, attention and focus,” she said.

“Babies show emotional responses early in development, which can be observed by physiological changes that help them adapt and integrate into their environment.

“We observed the same in the chimpanzees we monitored.”

The study has been published in Behaviour Research Methods, a journal of experimental psychology.


Tim Dornin
(Australian Associated Press)


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