Dealing With Invasive Species Through Robotics

Throughout its history, humankind’s travels have often brought unwelcome guests along for the ride, and sometimes introduced species into a new environment for a variety of reasons. These so-called invasive species are all too often responsible for widespread devastation in ecosystems, wiping out entire species and disrupting the natural balance. Now researchers are testing the use of robots for population control of these invasive species.

The mosquitofish is the target of current research by NYU Tandon School of Engineering and the University of Western Australia. Originally from parts of the US and Mexico, it was introduced elsewhere for mosquito control, including in Australia. There it has become a massive problem, destroying native species that used to eat mosquitoes. As a result the mosquito problem has actually worsened.

As the main issue with these invasive species is that they do not have any natural predators that might control their numbers, the researchers created robots which mimic the look and motion of natural predators. In the case of the mosquitofish the largemouth bass is its primary predator. The theory was that by exposing the mosquitofish to something that looks and moves just like one of these predator fish, they would exhibit the same kind of stress response.

So far laboratory tests under controlled condition have confirmed these expectations, with the mosquitofish displaying clear signs of stress upon exposure to the robotic largemouth bass. Even better, they displayed decreasing weight and were found to avoid potentially dangerous areas, indicating that instead of focusing on foraging, they were in survival mode. This should limit their environmental impact, including their ability to procreate.

Who knows, before long the surface waters of Australia may be home to the first robotic species of fish.

(Thanks, [Qes])

Drones Rain Down Rat Poison On The Galapagos

If your favorite movie is Ratatouille, now would be a good time to read a different article. Rats on the Gal√°pagos Islands are an invasive species and eradication is underway. This is not a first for the islands, and they are fiercely protected since they are the exclusive home to some species including the distinctive tortoise from which the island derives its name and of course finches. Charles Darwin studied the finches while writing On the Origin of Species. So yeah, we want to keep this island from becoming unbalanced and not disturb the native wildlife while doing it. How do we check all these boxes? Technology! Specifically, hexacopters carrying rat poison.

The plan is simple, drive a truck to a central location, release the hounds drones and fifteen minutes later they come back after flying high above the indigenous wildlife and dropping pest control pellets. The drones save time and labor, making them a workhorse rather than a novelty. This work experience on their resume (CV) could open the door to more dirty work or more wholesome activities. Who is to say that the same drones, the exact same ones, couldn’t deliver plant seeds, or nourishing food to the dwindling species harmed by the rat population explosion.

What would you deliver with drones? How about providing parcels or just learning a better way to navigate?

Via IEEE Spectrum.