Zebrafish prefer lookalike robots with the right moves

(Credit: NYU Tandon)

A new study suggests zebrafish engage more with 3D-moving robotic models of themselves than with other stimuli.

Scientists devised a controllable, customizable robotic platform to help them more accurately study freshwater fish behavior. Like a puppet master, the robotic platform maneuvers biologically inspired 3D-printed replicas to mimic the swimming patterns of real fish.

For the new study, published in the journal Royal Society Open Science, researchers introduced the live zebrafish in the middle section of a three-compartment experimental tank with the robotic fish and an empty section on either side.

Zebrafish like their robots striped, female, fertile

They then contrasted the response of live fish to the 3D-moving replica, a 2D-moving replica, a static replica, a transparent replica, and a non-moving rod.

The findings show that fish were attracted to a robot that mimicked both the appearance and the motion of real fish, and this attraction was lost when either differed.

“The fish, when presented with the choice between a static robot and one that was moving in 3D and beating its tail, preferred to spend time with the latter,” says Maurizio Porfiri, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at New York University.

“This clarifies the important role motion plays in influencing zebrafish behavior. These experiments also significantly refined the robotic platform that enables consistent, repeatable tests with our live subjects.”

Zebrafish are highly versatile and are increasingly taking the place of more complex animals in behavioral studies. Understanding their social behavior may help researchers explore mechanisms behind human disorders like anxiety, addiction, autism, and schizophrenia.

The National Science Foundation and the Mitsui USA Foundation supported the research.

Source: Abhilasha Meshram for New York University