Duke undergraduate engineering students Andrew Buie, Austin McKee and Logan Rooper are collaborating with Duke Global Health Institute Professor Greg Gray, to solve a common global health problem: researchers or other individuals who collect ticks in the field are often at major risk of exposure to the many diseases ticks are known to carry. When Dr. Gray contacted the Duke Robotics department last spring about the possibility of creating a robot that will help to capture ticks without putting researchers at risk, Andrew, Austin and Logan thought this “sounded like a very interesting proposal”. Hence, the students decided that they would use their electrical computer engineering and computer science knowledge to design a 3-wheeled ground prototype robot, they are calling TickBot that will be programmed to automatically deploy a tick collection device keeping human collectors out of harm’s way. Andrew, Austin and Logan are working to complete the TickBot prototype this fall in order to soon begin field testing.
We caught up with the TickBot team to find out more about this important project.
What are the challenges that you are facing in building the TickBot and how will you overcome them?
Tickbot presents several difficult challenges. First, we have to build a ground robot capable of driving on off-road, bumpy and unpredictable terrain. We designed the robot with very powerful high-torque motors, large wheels for climbing over obstacles, and a relatively low center of mass to keep it stable. Another big challenge is the design of the tick collector instrument- a device that automatically captures and stores ticks safely. We are using 3D printing prototypes for this device currently.
Our team has previous experience working on problem-driven engineering projects. We are all three part of Duke Robotics club, where we are collaborating to build an autonomous underwater vehicle designed to solve a specific set of challenges at a competition. Our team also worked on a project two years ago that was similar to this one- the ECE 110 Integrated Design Challenge. We worked together to build a robot capable of maneuvering itself, taking sensor readings, and communicating.
What are your future expectations for these kinds of innovative solutions?
In the future we would like to write fully autonomous software to control the TickBot. Our big picture vision for this project long term would be having the robot set up at a regular monitor location capable of surveying, extracting the ticks, recharging itself, and storing collected ticks in containers organized by collection time. A researcher could then collect these containers of ticks at weekly or monthly intervals and be completely isolated from any risk of infectious diseases.
Has being part of this project motivated you to want to learn more about One Health?
Absolutely, we’re all very interested in the work One Health is doing and excited about the international network they’ve created. We’d like to thank Dr. Gray for reaching out to us with this project, the Pratt School of Engineering and in particular Dean Jim Gaston for supporting our project, and One Health for their support of the project.