Rats Control Human Avatars

Rats Control Human Avatars

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Biologists are well-known for using lab rats in experiments, but a few may now have the chance to work with rats in a unique way. A team of engineers has set up a system that lets lab rats control a human-shaped avatar in a virtual environment, while humans control a rat-size robot inside the rat’s cage. The result? A six-foot human and a six-inch rat get to interact with each other remotely, and they get to each get to see either a virtual avatar or a robot that’s close to their own size.

Mel Slater and his colleagues are working on something they call “beaming,” in which two people who are distant from one another control robots in each other’s spaces. Usually, the team works on “beaming” humans to one another, not rats. This particular setup could also allow for some new experiments on rat and human behavior, said Mandayam Srinivasan, an engineer who splits his time between MIT and the University College London and who designed experiments with the new system.The research team created the setup mostly because it was a bit unexpected — “This particular implementation and experiment were mainly to show a highly novel application,” said Slater, but it’s also part of a larger effort to build a futuristic teleconferencing technology.

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