Though close to the ground, mice excel at detecting threats, such as a hawk descending from the sky. Researchers at Northwestern University sought to understand this behavior better. They created a relatively large set of VR goggles for mice, the Miniature Rodent Stereo Illumination VR (MRS), to observe how mice’s brain neurons develop new memories in a controlled environment. The immersive consists of scaled-down, high-resolution OLED screens, providing a full 180-degree view for each eye as the mouse moves on a tiny treadmill.
All about VR Googles for Mice
Instead of burdening the mice with the entire setup’s weight, the goggles stay put and encircle the mouse completely. The researchers aimed to enhance immersion, a challenge with traditional methods using distant screens.
Daniel Dombeck, a Northwestern researcher, noted that conventional screens lack depth information, providing a flat scene similar to watching TV. In contrast, VR goggles for mice, like Oculus Rift, occupy the entire field of vision, projecting scenes separately into each eye for depth perception—an element missing for mice until now.
How will it work?
The system offers a breakthrough, enabling scientists to capture real-time brain activity during animal interactions with external stimuli—a historically challenging task. However, the method has its challenges. Despite using VR goggles, getting mice to focus on screens and disregard their surroundings requires extensive training, according to Dombeck.
Despite these challenges, the researchers observed that the brains of VR-immersed mice activated the same regions as those freely roaming. After the initial session, the mice learned rapidly and could accomplish tasks, such as finding a reward. The miniature VR goggles for mice allowed the team to simulate overhead threats, like owls or hawks, as the top of a mouse’s field of view is crucial for detecting predators from above, as explained by research specialist Dom Pinke, a co-first author.