Rodents have been the subject of VR rigs in multiple neuroscience experiments, however, the latest one is futuristic and experimental.
Viktor Tóth, a Hungarian software engineer and neuroscientist, trained three rodents to play the 1994 game “Doom II” to learn about brain computer interfaces. He spent four months designing and building a USD 2000 (INR 1,48,725) bootstrap rig with the help of a ‘medium-sized 3D printer, a soldering iron, a drilling machine and a screwdriver set.’
“I built a VR setup for rodents from scratch and trained three rats in an automated fashion, without manual intervention, to traverse a corridor rendered in the DOOM II engine,” writes Viktor in a Medium post.
The Setup and the process
Typically, VR Rodents rigs ‘consists of a (polystyrene) ball, on which the rat runs suspended in a harness, along with motion sensors tracking the movement of the ball.’ Tóth set the ball on a ball bearing with a curved Dell computer placed in front to screen the game’s visuals.
A robot arm would help secure the rodents on the ball, while they could freely maneuver their movements and arms to play the game. Tóth acquired 8-week-old male Long Evans rats and named them Romero, Carmack and Tom. It took him six weeks to train them, spending one hour with each rodent daily. The slow process included getting them accustomed to the harness, their dress, movements on the ball, and stimulating their behavior based on positive and negative reinforcements.
He simplified the game by designing a map with only a corridor, an exit door and an exit button in Doom Builder 2. At the outset, training to walk had to be done manually as Tóth rolled the ball into different directions. They quickly caught up with movements with no additional support.
Image Via Viktor Tóth’s Medium Post.
Once the rodents were familiarized with the map, he introduced the imp monsters. To shoot the imp monster, the rodent would have to lift its rear body and activate a button placed above, developed exclusively for shooting purposes. Initially, upon encountering an imp, the training software automatically lifted the rodent and activated the shoot button. They were positively reinforced with sugary water during this training until they learned to do it by themselves.
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In an interview with Futurism, Tóth revealed the next step would be to stream the gameplay on Twitch to monetize the project.
He said, “I had Romero running for 15 minutes one time, which was great. That was crazy because he was doing it for so long and didn’t get tired or want to get off. So if you can actually get the rat to a point where it actually expresses a curiosity in the game, then it could get really interesting.”
“If you could get to that point and rats would actually “play” for 10 or 20 minutes straight, then yeah. Twitch streaming would be a very valid way to get this in front of people,” Tóth added.
All information in this article has been sourced from Viktor Tóth’s Medium Post, read all about it – HERE
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