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Even Rats Can Drive Cars Now

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A lot of discussions around cars now are not about who’s behind the wheel, but what technology is taking over driving in the future. Instead of asking when computers would start driving, we really should have been watching out for other mammals. A team from the University of Richmond, rats not only can drive tiny cars, but it helps them stay calm.

Try telling that to anyone stuck in rush hour traffic.

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Kelly Lambert and her team in Virginia built small vehicles for the rats out of a clear container and aluminum floor. 17 rats (11 male and six female) participated in the project. Instead of a steering wheel, there were three bars, each moving the car a different way. If a rat touched a wire while standing on the metal base, the report says, “they completed an electrical circuit that propelled the car forward.” To encourage the rats to drive, the scientists placed Froot Loop cereal pieces in their driving arena.

As testing went on, researchers placed the cereal in places that required the rats to move the car in various directions and distances, and they adjusted their driving to meet each challenge. These findings show that rats have brains more capable of learning than previously believed since driving (even in an arena) is a fairly complicated task.

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When humans learn a new skill, the University of Richmond researchers note that we gain a feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction. It turns out that rats might be similar. They monitored the levels of corticosterone, which bodies make when stressed, and dehydroepiandrosterone, or the anti-stress hormone, in the rats’ poop during training. It turns out that as they got better driving, their stress levels fell.

It turns out that rats may be a more intelligent species than we originally thought. We look forward to the day when rats can drive an Uber and pick us up.

News Source: New Scientist