Researchers at University College London (UCL) and the University of Barcelona have built a virtual reality system that allows for humans and rats to interact. These cross-species meetings have tested a process known as 'beaming' in which people take control of digital representations of themselves to carry out virtual interactions. Think Avatar; but with rats.
Described in a paper published in the journal PLOS ONE human participants were given a VR headset to control their avatar, and the rat's movements controlled a second avatar. This was done via a robot placed in the enclosure, which maps out the movements of the counterpart avatar on a scaled down level (to compensate for the smaller space and mobility of the rat).
The humans and the rats were separated in two locations: the people in a VR lab in Barcelona, and the rodent subjects kept in a animal care facility 7.4 miles away. Participants were encouraged to play two rounds of a five minute game, purposefully built for the avatars to approach each other and interact.
Interestingly, one of these games involved telling the human that their counterpart was infact another human. This was done to determine whether their reactions to the avatar altered between thinking it was another person and knowing it was a rat.
Professor Mel Slater at UCL admitted that the primary aim of the study was to show off the capabilities of this 'beaming' technology. Beyond showing success in this area, the concept of human-animal interaction is one that will provide valuable insight for the future.
Source: PLOS ONE