Israeli researchers train fish to drive robotic car

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A goldfish has successfully driven a robotic car, claims new research from Israel’s Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, discovered as part of an experiment to explore animal behavior.

The researchers wanted to know whether animals’ innate navigational abilities are universal or are restricted to their home environments. Taking the premise to the extreme, they designed a set of wheels under a goldfish tank with a camera system to record and translate the fish’s movements into forward and back and side-to-side directions to the wheels. By doing so, they discovered that a goldfish’s navigational ability supersedes its watery environs.

Their findings were published in the peer-reviewed journal Behavioural Brain Research.

The researchers tested whether the fish was really navigating by placing a clearly visible target on the wall opposite the tank. After a few days of training, the fish navigated to the target. Moreover, they were able to do so even if they were interrupted in the middle by hitting a wall, and they were not fooled by false targets placed by the researchers.

The study led the researchers to two conclusions. “The study hints that navigational ability is universal rather than specific to the environment,” said Shachar Givon, a PhD student in the Life Sciences department in the Faculty of Natural Sciences. “Plus, it shows that goldfish have the cognitive ability to learn a complex task in an environment completely unlike the one they evolved in. As anyone who has tried to learn how to ride a bike or to drive a car knows, it is challenging at first.”

The study was conducted by Givon; Matan Samina, an MSc student in the Biomedical Engineering Department in the Faculty of Engineering Sciences; Prof. Ohad Ben Shahar of the Computer Sciences department and head of the School of Brain Sciences and Cognition; and Prof. Ronen Segev of the Life Sciences and Biomedical Engineering departments.

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Lawrence has been covering engineering subjects – with a focus on motorsport technology – since 2007 and has edited and contributed to a variety of international titles. Currently, he oversees Automotive Powertrain Technology and Professional Motorsport World magazines as editor.

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