Out of the 11 rats who were trained and tested, five drove around on the specially designed cars for fun even if they were not offered any treats.
These rats can drive their own little four-wheelers and if you are thinking this is about the Stuart Little or Ratatouille movie, then you are wrong. We aren't talking about fictional rodents doing unbelievable feats but actual rats learning how to drive. The scientists at the University of Richmond have accomplished something astonishing and that is teaching rats how to drive cars.
The scientists have custom-built some tiny cars for these rats and the little animals love driving them around. Apparently, it has also been proven that "rats who learn to drive are more able to cope with stress." In a YouTube video posted by the university, what might sound like a fever dream to many is shown to be a reality, thanks to the study conducted by a team of scientists who were researching the ability of a rat to learn new things and how their environment affects them.
There have been numerous studies conducted on rodents in the past but those tests haven't been particularly complicated. So a team at the university led by Professor Kelly Lambert came up with something a little more complicated for these tiny resourceful animals other than exploring the maze.
They taught the rats how to drive but in order to do that, they needed to build special cars for them because the rats won’t be able to drive an actual four-wheeler for humans. The scientists ended up making what they called the Rat Operated Vehicle which could be driven with the help of a robot car kit attached to it and a transparent plastic food container making up for the body of the vehicle.
Now, they didn't have enough time to explain the idea of gas pedals and steering wheels to a rat so they made it easier for them. The rats could control their cars with three copper wires stretched across an opening cut out of the front of the bodywork and an aluminum plate on the floor. All the rat needed to do was stand on the plate and grip a copper bar to complete a circuit and engage the motors to turn on. One copper bar made the car turn right and another one made it turn left, and the third one made it go straight ahead.
In the test which was conducted in a closed-off arena measuring 1.5m x 0.6m x 0.5m, the 11 male rats learned how to drive over to get food treats in a short time with just three five-minute sessions for eight weeks. Each rat went through a series of trials to check if they were driving around only for food.
Out of the 11 rats, 5 of them lived together in a large cage with multiple surface levels and objects to play with, and six lived together in pairs in standard laboratory rat cages. The ones living in the enriched environment actually learned how to drive quicker that the other bunch. The five rats continued to drive around for fun even if they were not offered any treats. We guess they are the thrill seekers of the lot.
The scientists also sampled each rat's droppings at various points during the study to analyze them for metabolites of corticosterone and dehydroepiandrosterone, a pair of hormones. But there was no significant difference between the group coming from the enriched environment and the group living in lab cages.
Who knows, maybe we can see these intelligent rats driving an actual Porsche in near future!