More grapes for apes


Shona’s testing apparatus for her chimp study is one of the more complicated ones that project engineer Raik had to build recently. It’s in his workshop where the often quite abstract ideas of the scientists have their first encounter with reality. And quite a few never make it beyond this step.

Every setup needs a lot of caredul planning, but Shona’s apparatus is especially tricky. For her test to work, it has to be built in a way that induces the chimps to choose one button instead of trying all four and see what happens. So Raik thought up a mechanism that locks all other buttons once the first one has been pushed. „We also have to keep in mind that these guys have two hands“, he says with a wry smile. „And they are very clever in using them...“

Also, like every apparatus he builds for the apes, the construction has to be very robust. „They are curious“, he says, „and they like to take things apart.“ In this, the chimps are not the worst. „If we want to be absolutely sure that a construction holds, we take it to the Orang Utans first. If they don’t break it, we are fine.“

Shona’s apparatus still needs some refinement. The buttons stand out to far so the chimps can inadvertantly push them before they actually decided on one. Maik will saw off the ends a bit and then they will try again. Most likely, they will need several more iterations like this, before everything works smoothly. More testing, more thinking, more grapes...

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