Students create robot death machine for invasive spotted lanternflies

It combines an electric tractor, a mechanical arm and cameras to seek out and destroy eggs.

Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute

The spotted lanternfly may look innocent, but these ravenous creatures have been known to decimate crops, causing more than $500 million in damages to various fruit trees since being accidentally introduced to this country nearly a decade ago. The big idea right now is to introduce several species of wasps into the mid-atlantic ecosystem to hunt and eat the lanternflies, but students at Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute have developed an alternative plan in the form of a robot death machine.

It’s called TartanPest and uses a combination of technologies and components to autonomously hunt down and destroy lanternfly egg masses. It starts with an electric tractor for movement and a suite of cameras for traversal. This computer vision is also constantly on the hunt for egg masses, containing up to 50 lanternfly eggs. Once it finds a mass on a tree, rock or even a rust metal surface, a robot arm with a spinning brush attachment goes in for the kill, scrubbing the eggs away like so much trash.

"Currently, spotted lanternflies are concentrated in the eastern portion of the nation, but they are predicted to spread to the whole country," said Carolyn Alex, an undergraduate researcher on the TartanPest team. "By investing in this issue now, we will be saving higher costs in the future."

There’s some deep-learning algorithms at work here to locate the egg masses, trained using a large image data set. The robot does work autonomously but requires a human on-hand to fix any issues as they arise. So it’s probably not the most efficient way to eradicate spotted lanternflies. Still, it’s pretty darned cool and everybody loves a good killer robot.

This is just a prototype design for now, as the team designed the construct as part of Farm-ng's 2023 Farm Robotics Challenge. In other words, if lanternflies are getting you down, you have a while to wait before you can unleash an army of killer robots. In the meantime, you can always try an army of killer wasps instead.

This article contains affiliate links; if you click such a link and make a purchase, we may earn a commission.