As a community with a heavy focus on electronics and makers, we obviously feature a lot of robotics projects here at Hackster. Many of those use various forms of artificial intelligence for autonomous operation. But even today, our most advanced technology is struggling to accurately reproduce the complete brain of a mouse in a digital simulation. Why not skip the middle man and just use an actual rodent to control a robot? That’s what L.E. Crawford and Thad Martin’s Rat-Operated Vehicle does, and it is capable of autonomouse driving.
Don’t worry, this post isn’t just an excuse to make that awful pun. This is a real vehicle that can be piloted by a rat — or any other animal that can fit inside of the small cabin. As long as you keep an eye on the vehicle and don’t allow it to leave a controlled environment, the rodent will be perfectly safe — though we can’t promise that it won’t pick up a love for street racing. A very small electrical current will pass through the rat, which is necessary for control unless you want to teach your furry friend how to use a steering wheel. But it’s just 5V at a mere 0.005 milliamperes, and is far too little to cause any harm.
Surprisingly, this is easier to build than just about any conventional robot or even a radio-controlled car. It’s a typical rover design with four wheels that are each driven by their own DC motors. Those are controlled by an Arduino Uno board through common L298N H-bridge motor drivers. The rat-machine interface is what makes this vehicle interesting. That rat stands on a low-voltage plate in front of copper bars on the front of the car. When the rat grasps those bars — as rats enjoy doing — it acts as a resistor. That resistance is detected by the Arduino, and varies based on where the rat grabs. If it touches the front, the car will drive forward. If it grabs one of the sides, the car will turn. It’s unclear how good rats actually are at driving, but they are smart animals who will learn just about anything if it gets them a treat.