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Carnegie Melon University team develops autonomous robot to stave off spotted lanternflies

June 20, 2023

A team from Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute has developed anautonomous robot to control the spread of spotted lanternflies, invasiveinsects known to destroy economically important crops.

TartanPest uses an all-electrictractor, a robotic arm and computer vision to traverse fields and forests whileit detects and destroys spotted lanternfly egg masses. The egg masses – whichcontain 30-50 eggs and are often found on trees, rocks, outdoor furniture andrusty metal surfaces – are laid in the fall and hatch in the spring, birthing anew generation of the pests each year.

"Currently, spottedlanternflies are concentrated in the eastern portion of the nation, but theyare predicted to spread to the whole country," said Carolyn Alex, anundergraduate researcher on the TartanPest team. "By investing in thisissue now, we will be saving higher costs in the future."

The team created TartanPest bymounting a robotic arm to the base of an all-electric Amiga microtractorcreated by California-based robotics company Farm-ng. TartanPest uses a deeplearning model refined on an augmented image data set created from 700 imagesof spotted lanternfly egg masses from iNaturalist to identify them and scrapethem off surfaces.

Lanternflies feed on a wide rangeof plants and produce, including grapes, apples, hops, walnuts and manydifferent hardwoods. In Pennsylvania alone, they have the potential to drainUS$300 million from the economy annually. TartanPest could benefit smallfarmers and the broader food system by lowering the chemical pollution ofcrops, increasing efficiency on farms and saving labor costs for farmers.

The TartanPest team includes RIstudents Carolyn Alex, Simi Asher, Dominic Guri, Cole Herber, RuiJi Liu,Shrijit Singh and Srinivasan Vijayarangan. The team, advised by FranciscoYandun, presented TartanPest as part of Farm-ng's 2023 Farm Robotics Challenge.

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