It's summertime in the Northern Hemisphere, and that means the bugs are out – specifically, ticks. In light of the ensuing infestation, otherwise known as the annual repopulation, three professors at the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) have crossed the business of pest control with the world of robotics by last month testing their robotic "tick rover" to determine its efficiency at removing the blood suckers from the yard.

The robotic exterminator uses biomimicry, with the robot emulating a live host to draw in the ticks as it cruises around the lawn. The rover follows a pair of tubes that are stretched across the lawn, one of which emits carbon-dioxide. Unable to resist the CO2-drenched movement, the ticks attach to a cloth treated with a common insecticide that is dragged behind the rover and quickly meet their demise.

The recent testing provided evidence that this method of extermination kills from 75 to 100 percent of the ticks in the designated area. Col. Jim Squire, professor of electrical and computer engineering and project manager for the tick rover, has claimed that the only thing more successful at removing ticks is chemical spray, which can cause unwanted side-effects to both the flora and local wildlife (ticks notwithstanding). According to Squire, the rover method is both child- and EPA-safe.

Holly Gaff, an assistant professor in the Old Dominion University Department of Biological Sciences, was hired to run the tests on this third-generation tick-terminator and was so surprised by the successful results that, until further testing, she suspected her testing protocol was flawed. One in ten ticks survived the first round of testing, and the second round left no survivors.

The team plans to spend the upcoming academic year making design improvements and preparing for testing of a fourth iteration of the tick rover. In the meantime, they also plan to work on understanding just how fast the ticks repopulate. Ideally, the area wouldn't repopulate for at least a month, making the tick rover a viable resource for commercial pest control. If the fourth-generation testing scheduled for the next northern summer is successful, the team plans to seek grant funding to commercialize the rover.

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