Scientists Teach Goldfish How to Drive a Car: Do You Think You Can Drive Better?

Compared to most other animals, goldfish have considerably lower intelligence and a shorter memory. Also, as the titular character in the Apple TV+ show Ted Lasso said, “You know what the happiest animal in the world is? It’s a goldfish. It’s got a 10-second memory. Be a goldfish.” Contrary to popular belief, though, goldfish might be more intelligent than we realized. Recently, scientists taught goldfish how to drive a car

Goldfish driving research study at Ben-Gurion University

Goldfish drives a car by a sidewalk for study conducted by Israeli scientists at Ben-Gurion University
Goldfish drives a Fish Operated Vehicle (FOV) | Ben-Gurion University via Twitter

Do you think you can drive better than a goldfish? Probably so, but goldfish proved that they have some driving capabilities in a study conducted by a group of Israeli researchers at Ben-Gurion University, as reported by MotorTrend

No, this story is not from an episode of SpongeBob SquarePants. It’s also not from an episode of The Umbrella Academy, which features a character that has a talking goldfish that resides in a fishbowl atop a human bodysuit. Believe it or not, goldfish driving a car is a real thing.

Goldfish drive a Fish Operated Vehicle (FOV)

The recently published research study by the Israeli scientists at Ben-Gurion University is a follow-up to a similar study that they conducted in 2014. For the 2014 study, the scientists “rigged up vehicles to respond to an onboard goldfish’s movements using cameras and software.” The vehicles essentially mimicked the movements of the goldfish.

However, for the recent study, the goldfish actually demonstrated driving capabilities, with greater control of the movement of a vehicle. The researchers call the car that the goldfish drive a Fish Operated Vehicle, or FOV, which is a fishbowl situated atop a motorized platform with wheels. 

With food used as a reward, the goldfish navigated the FOV by following red stripes placed around the room. As described by Ronen Segev, one of the scientists for the study, the goldfish “were tasked to ‘drive’ the vehicle towards a visual target in the terrestrial environment, which was observable through the walls of the tank.”

Purpose of goldfish driving study: Demonstrate domain transfer methodology

Goldfish drives a Fish Operated Vehicle for study conducted by Israeli scientists at Ben-Gurion University
Goldfish drives a Fish Operated Vehicle (FOV) | Ben-Gurion University via Twitter

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At first glance, the goldfish driving a car study might seem like a nonsensical exercise. However, the study serves a purpose. The scientists conducted the study to demonstrate domain transfer methodology, or the “adaptive behavior exhibited by animals placed in environments not their own.”

By transferring a goldfish to a terrestrial vehicle, the researchers presented it with a challenge to overcome: 

“Basically, this methodology takes one species from its own environment and challenges it to perform behavioral tasks in a completely different environment. If the species performs successfully despite this change, the more likely the supposition that its spatial cognition, internal representations, and behavioral strategies are independent of the environment and thus may be universal.”

– Excerpt from goldfish driving study at Ben-Gurion University

The goldfish adapted by “learning new motor skills to drive the vehicle.” They also adapted to the “visual distortions” between the aquatic environment of their fishbowl and the surrounding area in which they drove. 

Given the findings of the study, it seems that we might need to reevaluate the intelligence and memory of goldfish. Perhaps, goldfish are not as forgetful as we previously thought. Also, the next time that you’re frustrated by the challenges of your daily commute, think of the goldfish. If a goldfish can adapt to its environment and drive well, then so can you.

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