Goldfish learn how to drive (VIDEOS)

Six fish were able to navigate a room in search of targets with ‘high level of success’ in new study

Israeli scientists have built a “Fish Operated Vehicle” (FOV) and claim to have trained six goldfish to move it around. They say the experiment demonstrates how navigational skills can translate between different environments.

The study, published this month in the Behavioural Brain Research journal, involved putting the fish into a water tank attached to a wheeled robot that was hooked up to a motion-tracking camera. A computer program developed to respond to its movement towards the tank’s walls then moved the FOV into the respective direction.

Researchers from Ben-Gurion University found that the goldfish managed to maneuver the vehicle around a three-by-four meter room in search of a marked destination in return for a food pellet reward. They gradually improved, “all while avoiding dead-ends and correcting location inaccuracies,” the team wrote.

The fish were able to complete the same task when starting the FOV from different points in the room, or when the target was moved, or even when decoys were set up. While the trials lasted 30 minutes each, some of the fish ended up finding their targets in under a minute as the experiment progressed.

I am excited to share a new study led by Shachar Givon & @MatanSamina w/ Ohad Ben Shahar: Goldfish can learn to navigate a small robotic vehicle on land. We trained goldfish to drive a wheeled platform that reacts to the fish’s movement (

— Ronen Segev (@ronen_segev) January 3, 2022

The team recorded the number of times the fish got to their targets, how long it took them and the distance traveled. By the last session, the fish had “exhibited control of the FOV and a high level of success.”

The results suggest that “navigational ability is universal rather than specific to the environment,” the researchers said, adding that it supports the hypothesis that space representation and navigation skills “possess a universal quality” across species.

The fish were tasked to “drive” the vehicle towards a visual target in the terrestrial environment, which was observable through the walls of the tank. Indeed, the goldfish were able to explore the terrestrial environment, all while avoiding dead-ends and correcting inaccuracies.

— Ronen Segev (@ronen_segev) January 3, 2022

“The way space is represented in the fish brain and the strategies it uses may be as successful in a terrestrial environment as they are in an aquatic one,” the team noted, adding that goldfish may have the “cognitive ability to learn a complex task in an environment completely unlike the one they evolved in.”

The team posted videos of the experiment and shared instructions to build mobile fish tanks on GitHub. In 2014, a team of Dutch computer scientists designed a similar goldfish-at-the-wheel apparatus that was apparently intended to “liberate fish all over the world.”

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