Israeli team trains goldfish to drive

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Move over, mudskippers. It turns out that goldfish, well-known dwellers of water, can in fact navigate on land. Israeli researchers have found that goldfish, when properly trained with food treats and provided with a suitable platform that includes the requisite water bath, can control a vehicle.

Ben-Gurion University researchers developed what they call an FOV — a fish-operated vehicle — that is fitted with lidar, a remote sensing technology that uses pulsed laser light to collect data on the vehicle's ground location and the fish's whereabouts inside a mounted water tank. Add a computer, camera, electric motors and omni-directional wheels to give the fish control of the vehicle and voila: a fish that can "drive" a car.

"Surprisingly, it doesn't take the fish a long time to learn how to drive the vehicle. They're confused at first. They don't know what's going on but they're very quick to realize that there is a correlation between their movement and the movement of the machine that they're in," said researcher Shachar Givon.

The researchers have so far taught six goldfish to pilot the vehicle. Each of them were provided around 10 driving lessons. And each time one of them reached a target set by the researchers, it was rewarded with food.

And, as is the case with humans, it turns out that some goldfish — Mariner Andretti? Bubbly Unser? Emerson Finnipaldi? Jacky Ickxthyology? Whale Earnhardt? Gills Villeneuve? Swimmi Raikkonen (he is a Finn, after all)? — are better drivers than others. (We could do this all day. In fact, we probably will.)

"There were very good fish that were doing excellent and there were mediocre fish that showed control of the vehicle but were less proficient in driving it," said biology professor and neuroscientist Ronen Segev.

As to the so-far-unsaid question of 'Why?', the researchers claim that showing that a fish has the cognitive capability to navigate outside its natural environment of water can expand scientific knowledge of animals' essential navigation skills.

"We humans think of ourselves as very special and many think of fish as primitive but this is not correct," said Segev. "There are other very important and very smart creatures."

Other animals that have been trained to drive cars include dogs and rats and a cat. So, you know, if it ever comes up as a category on "Jeopardy!," consider yourself prepared.

Material from Reuters was used in this report.

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