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Researchers Created a Working Star Trek Holodeck for Mice

This story was originally published on Outer Places.

If you could only create a holodeck for one species of mammal, it really should be for humans. Tiny holodecks for mice take up less space, sure, but there's no way Pinky or the Brain would get much satisfaction out of living in a virtual world. But not everyone agrees.

Andrew Straw, the leader of Straw Labs and a professor at the University of Freiburg in Germany, has led a team that has created a 3D simulated environment for use on "freely moving animals". This isn't actually the basis of their study - in reality, they're observing the way that various animals, including fish, flies, and mice, respond to environmental stimuli.

Because it's hard to control all elements in a natural environment, the team used projectors and high-end gaming equipment to carefully manufacture the stimuli that the animals were exposed to. 

At least, though, Straw and his team are taking advantage of the opportunity to show animals trippy visuals. For the fish, the scientists used a digital experience that features a lot of brightly colored moving parts. They projected Space Invaders onto the side of a fish tank. Why Space Invaders? "Honestly, partly because it's fun," Straw said, according to Motherboard.

A slightly more complex projection system also allowed the scientists to test how mice react to different perceived heights, which generally just meant making them think they were at the top of tall buildings. Here's hoping none of the poor rodents suffer from vertigo.

mice holodeck
  • Photo Credit: IMP/IMBA Graphics Department, https://strawlab.org/freemovr

Another part of the experiment involved showing the fish a simulation of another group of digital fish, running in real-time. Thanks to the gaming technology used, the scientists were able to get the fake fish to react to the organic creatures, helping to maintain the illusion and fooling the real fish into thinking that their digital friends were real.

According to Straw: "It allowed us to confirm theoretical prediction from 12 years ago that otherwise would have been very hard to do with other kinds of technology."

So while it was probably a bit heartbreaking for the fish when their new friends suddenly disappeared, this experiment has at least brought a lot of new understanding to anthropologists, and will no doubt be used again for further tests on mice and other animals.

And again, while holodecks for animals are all well and good, let's hope there's a better one for people soon. After all, it came in very handy for the Federation.

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Featured photo via IMP/IMBA Graphics Department, https://strawlab.org/freemovr

Published on 25 Aug 2017

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