Gaff said that before the experiment, people on the trail would find ticks on themselves within five minutes.
After the robot’s work, “we were able to sit in the middle and have a picnic after we ran it, with not a tick bothering us,” she said.
At a time when the number of ticks in Virginia is on the rise, and with it the diseases they carry, an environmentally friendly product like this has the potential to reshape the way experts think about pest control.
Gaff said new breeds of ticks are coming to the area from both the south and north. The bugs are a nuisance and can make you sick, most notably with Lyme disease.
The Virginia Department of Health reported 202 cases of Lyme disease statewide in 2003. By 2010, there were 1,245. Southwest Virginia alone saw 14 cases by May of this year.
The robot’s developers hope to bring it to market within the next few years and say it could one day be considered an industry standard.
“Pest control companies, their business model is to strap toxic chemical tanks on the backs of minimum-wage employees and have them spray,” said James Squire, a VMI electrical engineer who headed the project. “They don’t have any high-tech infrastructure to take care of robots and to maintain them. So it’s a different business model.”
The robot idea came from three engineers at VMI. Squire worked on the electrical components, Jay Sullivan the mechanical and Dave Livingston the computers. A team of undergraduate students also helped design the machine.
The prototype looks like a glorified remote control car dragging a piece of fabric. But Squire explained it was carefully designed to use the ticks’ own predatory instincts against them.
Ticks can live for three years, but feed only two or three times in their lives. They spend most of their days out of sight, buried underground around plant roots to stay moist, according to Gaff.<< previous 1 2 3 next >>
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