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Fish out of water: Scientists teach goldfish to drive robotic cars to study navigational capabilities

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In a recent experiment, scientists have taught a goldfish to drive a robotic car. The experiment was an attempt to test the navigational abilities of goldfish and to study the animal’s behavior. The robotic car was specifically designed for this purpose. The fish-powered vehicle (FOV), designed by scientists at Ben Gurion University of the Negev in Israel, consisted of a rectangular platform with a set of wheels on each side. The platform contained a goldfish tank and a camera system that recorded and translated the fish’s movements. According to its movement, the wheels of the instrument moved forward, backward and sideways.

The scientists placed a clearly visible target on the wall in front of the fish tank and studied the movement of the fish. Its ability to propel the device toward a target will determine important properties about the animal’s navigational abilities.

The study was published last month in the journal Behavioral Brain Research. In the paper’s abstract, the researchers wrote, “For this purpose, we trained the goldfish to use a fish-powered vehicle (FOV), a wheeled terrestrial platform that controls the fish’s motion characteristics, location, and movement in its water tank. Responds to orientation. Change vehicle; ie, position of the water tank, in the arena.”

The scientists used the experiment to find out whether there are universal properties in the animal kingdom that are independent of species, ecology, and brain structure. The experiment showed how a species would react to performing otherwise familiar navigation activities in an exotic environment.

The goldfish required a few days of training. Thereafter, it can successfully drive the FOV towards a given target. This proved that its navigational capabilities were not limited to an aquatic environment and that it could adapt those capabilities to a terrestrial environment as well.

The video of the goldfish navigating was uploaded to the official YouTube channel of Ben-Gurion University. Watch the video here:

According to a report in The Independent, Shachar Givone, a PhD student in the Department of Life Sciences in the Faculty of Natural Sciences, said in a statement that the findings suggested navigational skills were universal rather than environment-specific. Second, it shows that goldfish have the cognitive ability to learn a complex task in a completely different environment than the one in which they evolved.

After training, the goldfish were able to operate the vehicle and reach their target from any starting point, the scientists said. It also learned to avoid dead-ends and correct location inaccuracies.


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