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ImageTicks are a health hazard to humans and pets alike. Yet few spray pesticides indiscriminately in tick-infested areas, primarily out of concerns over environment and cost.

Justin Woulfe and his fellow students at the Virginia Military Institute came up with a novel solution. They hacked an RC truck, upgraded the drive motor to 11W, the batteries to 12V NiMH, and added an Atmel AVR ATmega8. The resulting robot, dubbed Tick Rover, was then sent out to comb the lawn.

The ticks that jumped onto the comb and were exposed to localized Permethrin, zapping the insect without leaving any chemicals behind. Environmentally it is much safer. But what about the cost?

At $500 a pop, Woulfe doesn’t expect consumers to purchase the machine. But pesticide companies who invest in it could charge less for running the robot — about $75 per acre — than they now charge for spraying, which costs about $85 per yard.

Not too bad for a first generation prototype. The IEEE thought so, too, and rewarded the effort.

The students earned an undergraduate research grant to fund development, and wrote a paper on the device which won first place in the Virginia Mountain Section of the annual IEEE Student Papers Contest, and then won second place in the IEEE Region 3 contest — one of the 6 regions in the country.

For more information, see the first and second field test results, Woulfe’s paper, and this article on Wired.

7 Responses to “Ticks beware: RC Truck Hacked for Pest Control”

  1. Berti

    I suspect a problem with having it run 3 months at a time, but seeing that at this point you are just estimating and with a collection rate of more than 80% of ticks in the perimeter, I suspect letting the attraction cycle run longer to attract more ticks would do the trick. Smart application of fuzzy logic, too. Where did you get the idea?

  2. William

    Bert, yes, I’m interested in knowing how they came up with the idea too.

    It would also be cool if you could devise some way of monitoring how many ticks you’ve picked up. That way you could dynamically adjust your search pattern.

  3. Justin Woulfe, Barry Hammond,

    To clarify a few points, the Tick Rover succesfully collected 96% of the ticks during a test at Old Dominion University. The robot wouldn’t run for three months at a time, the three months is just a window during which two stages of the tick life cycle are active. Actual running time would be bout a day per site. Check out the IEEE Potentials article for a more in depth analysis, or contact one of us for more info thru the ECE dept at VMI. The research project originated from a request from Dr. Dan Sonenshine at ODU to develop a way to collect ticks without having grad students dragging the sheet. We simply brainstormed and designed from the concept. Future work includes building a shed in which the robot can be recharged, cleaned, etc. all autonomously which will include way to keep track of the tick density per site.

  4. Alexandra Grabbe

    I caught Lyme disease last summer and have been hoping someone will invent a machine like the mosquito magnet to kill the ticks around my bed & breakfast. I sincerely hope some business will have the sense to purchase this idea and commercialize it. I would like one!

  5. max

    Great idea. If you can implement it without placing a tube all around your lawn that emits chemoattractant, you’ll be all set. Perhaps the little bot can perform both functions – emit the atrractant on first path, collect on the second, or do both simultaneously.

    The alternative to bot following a tube can be placement of corner beacons throughout the property, and manually setting the bot’s path on the initial run – just the way you’d drive the toy truck from point to point.

  6. momotarosan

    now I can see the maker the Roomba coming up with a lawn version copycat…a small propane cartridge and a robot that will slowing cover the entire lawn automatically

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