As a reader of Hackster News, you are most likely very well acquainted with technologies such as self-driving cars and unmanned aerial vehicles. But have you ever heard of an FOV? If not, then let me introduce you to the latest rage sweeping aquariums around the world — the fish operated vehicle. Once and for all, aquatic fans of The Little Mermaid can finally live out their dreams and become “Part of Your World”.
This may sound like a gimmick built by a hardware hacker to get some views on their YouTube channel, but in reality there is a legitimate scientific purpose behind the FOV. In the animal kingdom, navigation is a critical skill for survival and finding food, but there is much about animal navigation that is not understood. Researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev wanted to determine if space representation and navigation mechanisms depend on the species and brain structures, or if they share general and universal properties.
The vehicle itself consists of a small chassis, on which an aquarium is mounted. Four DC motors drive omni wheels to propel the vehicle in the desired direction. Navigation is achieved via a computer vision system that tracks the location and orientation of a goldfish within the tank. If the fish is located near a wall of the tank, and facing outward, the vehicle moves in that direction. If the fish is facing inward, the vehicle halts.
The fish did not just randomly drive around with no awareness of their terrestrial surroundings outside of the tank, and that is where this research gets really interesting. The team actually trained goldfish how to drive their fishmobile by rewarding them with a pellet of food when they successfully navigated to a red stripe on dry land that was visible from the aquarium.
In a series of trials, the fish actually did learn to navigate to the target location to get their snack. To prove that it was not a fluke, and that the fish did not just happen to reach the target in the course of floundering about (puns fully intended), the researchers varied the starting point of the FOV and moved around obstacles. The goldfish were observed to avoid dead-ends and correct location inaccuracies as they apparently purposefully navigated towards the destination, and the reward that it brought.
For the sake of us all, let us hope FOV technology never, ever falls into the hands (or rather, fins) of sharks. That would be a tragic day for humanity — but perhaps an excellent plot idea for a low-budget made-for-TV movie.