US Navy trains sea lions with the help of video games
San Diego, California - Scientists at the Naval Information Warfare Center (NIWC) shared new details about their ambitious animal training program. Spoiler alert, it includes video games!
Per a press release from the Naval Information Warfare Center (NIWC) Pacific and the National Marine Mammal Foundation (NMMF), scientists have been successfully using computer games to train sea lions.
One specimen, whose code name is Spike, is the first to complete his training on the game system designed by Navy scientists for the cognitive enrichment of marine mammals.
According to the release, Spike can operate an "animal-controlled interface" with his snout and maneuver a cursor through a maze. The game looks like a cross between Snake and Pac-Man, and the sea lion apparently plays it with "laser-like focus."
The video game called EVE system, short for Enclosure Video Enrichment, was designed to entertain and relax the Navy's sea lions.
Scientists working on new game for sea lion
Per the NIWC, 300 people care for the more than 120 sea lions and dolphins that have been "trained in reconnaissance and recovery tasks" which they can "perform better than humans."
Kelley Winship, a psychologist and head of the EVE project, talked about her charges: "I love all the cool stuff we can look at with this research, but at the end of the day, I want to see them happy and enjoying themselves."
Spike, according to military officials, really likes the game and sometimes doesn't even look for a fishy reward. He's played 450 sessions and proven seals can operate "complex systems."
Scientists say they plan to train more sea lions to play and they have a version of EVE designed for dolphins. Winship's team wants to move on to the next phase: a multiplayer game. "We built a game where we can compete against Spike – he can chase us around and we can move away," she said.
"He hasn't seen it yet. He's going to be really excited."
Cover photo: Montage: Naval Information Warfare Center, US Navy/Jaime Ciciora