BACKGROUNDThe physical distance between predator and prey is a primary determinant of behavior, yet few paradigms exist to study this reliably in rodents.NEW METHODThe utility of a robotically controlled laser for use in a predator-prey-like (PPL) paradigm was explored for use in rats. This involved the construction of a robotic two-dimensional gimbal to dynamically position a laser beam in a behavioral test chamber. Custom software was used to control the trajectory and final laser position in response to user input on a console. The software also detected the location of the laser beam and the rodent continuously so that the dynamics of the distance between them could be analyzed. When the animal or laser beam came within a fixed distance the animal would either be rewarded with electrical brain stimulation or shocked subcutaneously.RESULTSAnimals that received rewarding electrical brain stimulation could learn to chase the laser beam, while animals that received aversive subcutaneous shock learned to actively avoid the laser beam in the PPL paradigm. Mathematical computations are presented which describe the dynamic interaction of the laser and rodent.COMPARISON WITH EXISTING METHODSThe robotic laser offers a neutral stimulus to train rodents in an open field and is the first device to be versatile enough to assess distance between predator and prey in real time.CONCLUSIONSWith ongoing behavioral testing this tool will permit the neurobiological investigation of predator/prey-like relationships in rodents, and may have future implications for prosthetic limb development through brain-machine interfaces.