Offbeat


Automobiles may be a human invention but, as it turns out, we might not be the only species that are able to operate them.

One particularly famous dog in New Zealand was taught how to drive a car a few years back. Now, scientists at the University of Richmond have managed to teach rats to drive small electric vehicles.

The experiments involved six female and 11 male rats who were placed in small ‘arenas’ with what scientists describe as a “rat-operated vehicle”, or ROV, and encouraged to press on copper bars to propel the vehicle forward to be rewarded with Froot Loops cereal. As the rats started to get the hang of driving the ROVs to collect their tasty reward, the arenas were slowly expanded to up to 43 square feet in size.

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The copper bars used in the ROVs send an electric circuit that powers the car when clasped in the paws of the rat. If the rat clasped the bars on the left side, the ROV would turn to the left and vice versa, CNN reports.

“They learned to navigate the car in unique ways and engaged in steering patterns they had never used to eventually arrive at the reward,” professor of behavioral neuroscience at University of Richmond Kelly Lambert said. “I do believe that rats are smarter than most people perceive them to be and that most animals are smarter in unique ways than we think.”

Interestingly, the experiment revealed that learning to drive actually seemed to relax the rats based on measures of corticosterone, a marker of stress, and dehydroepiandrosterone, which counteracts stress.

Don’t expect your taxi driver or Uber driver to ever be replaced by a highly-trained rat anytime soon any time soon (though we suspect some may be more intelligent…), but nevertheless, this is a pretty interesting finding.

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