- Career & Technical Education
Orange-Ulster BOCES Career and Technical Education students in two programs recently teamed up on a project to teach rats how to drive.
Mechatronics and Robotics Engineering students Brandon Barton (Port Jervis) and Logan Smith (school) created the vehicle. Then Animal Science students Sydnie Meore (Pine Bush), Brighton Blake (Minisink Valley), Orlando Mendoza (Middletown) and Kathleen Rios (Washingtonville) trained rats Pinky and the Brain to operate the ratmobile.
Animal science instruction Jennifer Woodhouse and occupational aid Elisa Wood came up with the idea after learning about a University of Richmond study that taught 17 rats to drive.
The first step was the vehicle. Brandon and Logan worked quickly to create a three-wheeled car that the rats could control with three levers (left, right and forward). The pair tried to improve on the design of University of Richmond’s vehicle by making it less complex.
Patrick Killian’s Mechatronics class brought the ratmobile to the Animal Science lab in February, and the rats were able to get the machine moving almost immediately (although perhaps accidentally).
The Animal Science students then used cereal rewards to teach the rats to drive. The original design of the vehicle had a passenger compartment made of metal bars held together with zip ties, but that turned out to be a bit of a sensory overload for the rats.
So with help from Brandon and Logan, the cage was replaced with a clear animal cracker container with windows cut out to give the rats treats. The container gave Pinky and the Brain more space to move around, was easier to get in and out of and was less distracting than the bars.
For the first week of training, the Animal Science students found that the rats were pressing on the levers while reaching for treats. Pinky was the better driver. The Brain would just hang out in the car trying to steal food out of the students’ hands.
In the second week, The Brain ended up being the better driver and would drive the car in the direction of the treats. Fruit Loops worked best.
Last month, the Animal Science students presented their results to the Mechatronics students.