Watch Goldfish Driving a Tiny Robotic Car on Land in Incredible Video

Researchers have released fascinating video footage of goldfish successfully operating a robotic car on land.

The footage shows experiments conducted by scientists from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel who wanted to better understand navigational abilities in animals.

For a study, the results of which have been published in the journal Behavioural Brain Research, the Ben-Gurion team investigated the question of whether an animal's navigational abilities are universal or restricted to their home environment.

"Navigation is a critical ability for animal survival and is important for food foraging, finding shelter, seeking mates and a variety of other behaviors," the authors wrote in the paper.

"Given their fundamental role and universal function in the animal kingdom, it makes sense to explore whether space representation and navigation mechanisms are dependent on the species, ecological system, brain structures, or whether they share general and universal properties," they said.

In order to probe these questions, the researchers decided to take one type of animal—in this case, goldfish—and place them in an unfamiliar, terrestrial environment where they had to cope with the otherwise familiar task of navigation.

To see whether goldfish could navigate a terrestrial environment, the researchers designed a "Fish Operated Vehicle" (FOV) and trained several goldfish to use it. The robotic FOV consisted of a chassis with wheels supporting a platform on which a perspex water tank was placed.

The scientists equipped the vehicle with a camera system that recorded the fish's movements, location and orientation in the water tank, and translated them into instructions for the wheels of the FOV to move forwards and backwards, as well as left and right.

For example, if the fish was located near the wall of the water tank while facing outward, the vehicle moved in that direction. But if the fish was facing inwards, no motion occurred.

The researchers tasked the fish with "driving" the FOV towards a visual target, which was visible through the clear walls of the tank, in a terrestrial environment. Depending on the task, the targets consisted of one or more colored plastic boards placed on the walls of a room.

They found that after a few days of training the fish were able to operate the vehicle, explore their terrestrial environment and reach the target, regardless of their starting point, all while avoiding dead-ends and false targets placed by the researchers.

The results of the study demonstrate that these goldfish were able to transfer their representations of space and navigation skills to a totally different environment than the one they have evolved to live in.

"The study hints that navigational ability is universal rather than specific to the environment," Shachar Givon, an author of the study from Ben Gurion's Life Sciences Department, said in a statement.

"Second, 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."

Goldfish operating a Fish Operated Vehicle
A screenshot taken from a video of the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev experiments, showing a goldfish operating the "Fish Operated Vehicle." Shachar Givon, Matan Samina, Prof. Ohad Ben Shahar, Prof. Ronen Segev/Ben-Gurion University of the Negev