Ratautonomy: Scientists Teach Rats How To Drive And It’s Freaky AF
24 October 2019 - motor1
There's actually some serious science happening here.
Okay friends, it's time you knew just how flipping serious we are at Motor1.com about covering all things automotive. This could well be the weirdest story you read all week, possibly even the year, and yes, it's absolutely true. Scientists have trained rats to drive a car. Granted, it's a rat-sized electric car in a small enclosure, but yeah. Rats that can drive.
We can tell you're craving more information on this crazy story, so here's the scoop. Dr. Kelly Lambert is a behavioral neuroscience professor at the University of Richmond, and she leads a team studying the behavior of rats. That's an extremely basic description of the scientific work happening with regards to this study, but know that it's not simply for the thrill of seeing rats operating a motorized machine with some measure of intelligence. More on that in a bit.
How does this actually work? In short, a small electric car not much bigger than a rat was built from some aluminum, a plastic food container, an electric motor, and four wheels. Inside are three copper bars, and the rat serves as a conduit to complete an electric circuit. When the copper bars are touched, power goes to the motor which makes the car go forward. Steering is also achieved by the rat touching either the left, center, or right copper bar.
The report specifies that 17 rats – 11 male and six female – were effectively taught to drive and steer the car in a small area to reach food. And since we know exactly what you're thinking, it's not clear which gender had better drivers.
Now for the million-dollar question, and the answer might someday be worth far more than a million bucks. Why teach rats to drive? In short, by studying the effects of such things on rats, we can potentially learn more about various neurological conditions affecting humans. More complex situations like this can better mimic how human brains respond, which can provide better data. As such, the research could help scientists better understand everything from mental disorders like depression, to the effects of Parkinson's disease.
And since the tiny car doesn't resemble a Ford Mustang in any way, no rats – either in the driver's seat or watching from a car show – were harmed.