VMI Professors Invent a Tick Killing Robot

By: Suzanne Wilson Email
By: Suzanne Wilson Email

July 16, 2013

In the past five years alone, the local health department and the nation have seen an increase in the number of tick-borne disease cases like Lyme Disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.

Elizabeth Baker, a Professor at Wake Forest University and Commercialization Expert, said, "People are really concerned with their children of their dogs being in the backyard and having the tiniest little tick that they don't see and then all of a sudden their child has Lyme disease."

A few professors at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Virginia, have invented a tick robot that they think can change the way ticks are treated in your backyard all in a safe and environmentally friendly way.

Jim Squire, a Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the Virginia Military Institute, said, "If we could use biomimicry to fool the ticks into thinking the robot is a living host, we might be able to really pull all of the ticks from an environment onto that mat and kill them."

The first thing they do is a lay a pipe around the outer edges of a yard where ticks can typically be found. The pipe then emits carbon dioxide. That is the chemical we breathe out that ticks are attracted too. The ticks then congregate around the piping.

Squire continues, "We turn the robot on and it drags this cloth over it at what we experimentally found to be an ideal speed for ticks to adhere to it."

David Livingston, a Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the Virginia Military Institute, said. "They see that skirt coming by and they think that's an animal and they climb up on that skirt. But, the skirt is treated with Permethrin and that will kill them."

Now that the tick robot has proven it works, the team is working toward taking the robot from the lab and into the field. There is some more research to be done on the effectiveness of the robot in family yards. The team is taking the next steps toward mass producing the tick robot.

Baker said, "It's really important to us to make the solution accessible. Not just environmentally friendly, not just very practical but also the ability of everybody, from small business to large business to have the capacity to use it."

They hope to have to tick robot available for under $1,000 and ready for pest control companies to use in the next three to five years.

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