Rats Avatars: A New Twist On Virtual Reality

Imagine playing a simple game in a virtual-reality setting. You move an avatar around a room trying to entice your opponent’s avatar to move closer to you when you are in certain spot. Meanwhile, 12 km away, cameras track your opponent’s movements around an arena that also contains a robotic representation of you. The cameras are telling your opponent’s avatar where to move in your virtual reality setting based on where they move in their actual setting.

Your goal is to score the most points by moving the virtual you into proximity with your opponent’s avatar while you are both at a certain location within the virtual room. If you succeed, you score a point. If you and your opponent get too close anywhere else in the room, your opponent scores a point. Your opponent, however, is not terribly interested in points; your opponent wants to get close to the robotic you because it has snacks. Your opponent is a rat, and rats are rather fond of treats.

This scenario might sound like something from a science fiction movie, but it is actually the basic summary of work published in October in the online journal PLOS One (1). The researchers used cameras to track the movements of a rat in a physical pen; these movements were then translated to the study participant’s virtual reality world, where they were represented by a human avatar. Conversely, the participant’s movements in their virtual world were translated to the rat’s physical world via the movements of a rat-sized robot. In this way, human and rat could interact with each other in a whole new way, each at their own scale.

Below is a video showing one “game”.

[wpvideo 2XMGplzq]


  1. Normand, J-M., et al. (2012) Beaming into the Rat World: Enabling Real-time Interaction between Rat and Human Each at Their Own Scale. PLOS One, 7.  Accessed November 20, 2012.
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Kelly Grooms

Kelly Grooms

Scientific Communications Specialist at Promega Corporation
Kelly earned her B.S. in Genetics from Iowa State University in Ames, IA. Prior to coming to Promega, she worked for biotech companies in San Diego and Madison. Kelly lives just outside Madison with her husband, son and daughter. Kelly collects hobbies including jewelry artistry, reading, writing and knitting. A black belt, she enjoys practicing karate with her daughter as well as hiking, biking and camping.

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