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Mon Dec 22 07:34:08 SAST 2014

Researchers give humans a rats eye view

Times LIVE | 12 November, 2012 15:35
A white rat. File picture
Image by: Biboyo / Wikimedia commons

Researchers have combined immersive virtual reality and teleoperator devices to allow a human and a rat to operate a game on the same scale, according to a study.

The study was published in the online free research journal PloS One.

The researchers had the human represented in a rat arena with a small robot slaved to the human participants movements, while using a device to allow the human to see the world from that robot's perspective.

"Hence when the human, for example, moves close to the representation of the animal in the virtual environment, so the robot moves close to the corresponding animal in the physical habitat," the researchers wrote.

The rat meanwhile was given a humanoid avatar with which to interact with the human.

"Both animals and humans experience their environment at their own scales. We call this process ‘beaming’ since the human in effect digitally beams a physical representation of him- or herself into the animal environment," the researchers said.

The point to the experiment was to see if the system worked during a game between the human and rat, to examine how the rat reacted to the robotic device and how the humans managed to play the game.

The system worked and both rats and human participants could in fact play the game.

What they found was that during the rat side of the trial, when the humans were controlling the rat robot, the rats got closer to the rat sized robot and thus ended up scoring more points.

The second game, during which the humans thought they were playing other human beings, ended up with the rats keeping a bit more of a distance and thus scoring about half the points of the first trial. Because the same rats were used both times, it could have been that they were tired or full from the treats they got the first time around, or that the humans believing the rats to be human, kept more of a distance.

Overall the fact that the game even worked was remarkable, with the researchers stating; "The virtual environment acts as a unifying medium through which participants who operate at quite different scales can be brought together, and their appearance changed as appropriate to the demands of the application."

"Although we have applied this technology to interaction between humans and animals, primarily for use in the life sciences, the very same idea could be used for example, to realise human to remote-human interaction," the researchers concluded.

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