Can lidar enable a goldfish to drive?

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Despite Betteridge’s law of headlines — an adage that states that any headline that asks a question can be answered by the word “no” — it turns out that lidar can, in fact, enable a goldfish to drive.

Courtesy of

Courtesy of

An experiment conducted by researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev sought to determine whether a goldfish’s navigational abilities could extend beyond its water-based environment. They explored the possibilities using domain-transfer methodology, in which one species is embedded in the environment of another species and made to cope with an otherwise familiar task — in this case, navigation.

The researchers built a “fish-operated vehicle” (FOV) — a small fish tank mounted on a wheeled frame. In lieu of a steering wheel, the FOV used a pole-mounted camera, a computer processor, and a lidar system that was aimed at the fish in the tank.

The camera and lidar determined the goldfish’s position and orientation within the tank, as well as how the tank was positioned in relation to its environment. The processor then used this information to extrapolate the fish’s navigational intent in order to determine in which direction the FOV should move. When the fish pointed itself at a target, the vehicle would move in that direction.

The research team allowed the goldfish to go on a supervised joyride to observe how its actions influenced the vehicle’s movement. When the system appeared to be operating swimmingly, the researchers then added targets that granted a food reward if the fish managed to successfully navigate to them — sort of like a fast-food drive-through. The researchers found that, over time, the goldfish came to understand that its actions influenced the movement of the vehicle in desired ways that led to a tasty treat.

The team subsequently changed the system’s driving course to allow the fish to experience both indoor and outdoor environments, such as a lab room and a parking lot. They found that the fish had no problem adapting. It consistently drove straight for the proverbial golden arches to receive its reward.

Published: March 2022
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