Archive Article: 1997/09/06

6 September 1997

Robotic solution

SLUGS still rank as one of the most troublesome arable pests. The irony is that, of all pests, the slow-moving slug is probably the easiest to catch.

This hasnt escaped the attention of scientists at the University of the West of England looking to create a robot system.

Slug-seeking robots empty their catch into a fermenter. The biogas produced, as they decompose, powers a generator to recharge the robots batteries.

Slugs were selected for the DTI-funded project because they form easy prey without the need for active pursuit. Although slugs do have a response against predators, it consists of rocking from side to side.

The robots have yet to be designed but will probably hunt by comparing snapshots of an area while on patrol. They will recognise a slug shape and when these move between successive images the robots will know to target and catch their viscous victims.

The true objective of the Intelligent Autonomous Systems Engineering Lab at Bristol is to build a self-fuelling robot rather than develop a real slug control solution.

There are some interesting slug opportunities, says Dr David Glen, slug expert at neighbouring IACR-Long Ashton, who is lending an agricultural perspective to the scheme. "In the immediate future robots could prove a valuable research tool and from that there could rise practical possibilities."

So what now sounds just a bit far fetched could turn out to have a future.

Meanwhile take some satisfaction from knowing that, in a sci-fi stomach somewhere, slugs are making rather than taking a meal.

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