Israeli researchers have taught goldfish to drive, according to a study that offers new insights into animals’ ability to navigate – even when they’re literally fish out of water.
For the study, published in the peer-reviewed journal Behavioural Brain Research, the goldfish were trained to use a wheeled platform, dubbed a Fish Operated Vehicle. The FOV could be driven and have its course changed in reaction to the fish’s movements inside a water tank mounted on the platform.
Their task was to “drive” the robotic vehicle toward a target that could be observed through the walls of the fish tank. The vehicle was fitted with lidar, short for light detection and ranging, a remote sensing technology that uses lasers to collect data on its ground location and the fish’s location within the tank.
The researchers, from Ben-Gurion University, found the fish were able to move the FOV around unfamiliar environments while reaching the target “regardless of their starting point, all while avoiding dead-ends and correcting location inaccuracies.”
The goldfish in the tank were placed in a test arena and tasked with driving toward a target. Upon successfully hitting the target, they received a food pellet reward. The scientists said that after a few days of training, the fish were able to navigate past obstacles such as walls, while eluding efforts to trick them with false targets.
“The study hints that navigational ability is universal rather than specific to the environment,” said Shachar Givon, one of the study’s authors, in a statement. “It shows that goldfish have the cognitive ability to learn a complex task in an environment completely unlike the one they evolved in.”
The Israeli FOV isn’t the world’s first fish-driven car. In 2014, a design lab in the Netherlands mounted a fish tank on a vehicle which came with a webcam. The camera was able to follow the fish and translate their movements into directions for the go-kart. A video demonstrating the prototype showed the vehicle moving in spurts as the fish swam from one side of the tank to another.
Driving experiments have also been undertaken using other animals, including rats and, reportedly, dogs. Navigation is a critical ability for animal survival and the Israeli researchers say showing that a fish has the cognitive capability to navigate outside its natural environment “hints at universality in the way space is represented across environments.”