Researchers use robots to fight dengue fever in Taiwan

A group of scientists in Taiwan used robots to find and destroy the breeding places of dengue-carrying Aedes mosquitos in Kaohsiung city sewers.

A new study led by the Taiwan National Mosquito-Borne Diseases Control Research Center has demonstrated that unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs) can effectively monitor sewers for dengue-carrying mosquitoes and eradicate them.

Researchers employed the UGV system consisting of a crawling robot, a wire-controlled cable car, and real-time monitoring software, in tropical Kaohsiung City, Taiwan's third-largest, to identify potential mosquito hotspots in an epidemic control effort carried out from May to August 2018.

It was used in the city's five administrative districts, mainly targeting covered roadside sewer ditches. Researchers said that a fifth of the 58 examined gutters contained Aedes mosquitoes in stages from larvae to adult.

Positive ditches were then sprayed with insecticides or flushed with high-temperature water jets to prevent the proliferation of mosquitoes. Immediately after, the gravitrap index, which measures adult mosquito density nearby, dropped from 0.62 to 0.19.

Describing the use of robots as the most "promising" new technology to fight dengue fever, the study's authors said it could significantly reduce the annual prevalence of the disease that may cause fever, headache, vomiting, and skin rash, among other symptoms.

The researchers said that advancements in sensors, mobility, and AI systems could further improve the effectiveness of robots in epidemic control efforts.

Aedes mosquitos, also responsible for transmitting chikungunya, yellow fever, and zika, have found fertile breeding grounds in urban sewers.

The underground labyrinth provides an ideal, undisturbed environment for these disease-spreading insects, making traditional monitoring and control methods inadequate.

The findings of the research were published in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases journal.

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