Students invent robotic camera to study gopher tortoise

Species difficult to study due to underground habitat

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The gopher tortoise is a threatened species in Florida and is listed as endangered in some states.

The animals can be hard to study due to their underground habitat. But thanks to an invention by two University of North Florida students and their professors, researchers will hopefully be able to get a better and up-close look at the species to help determine their population.

The more than 250 gopher tortoises on UNF's campus are used to sharing their 400 burrows with creatures like snakes and worms, but they were probably a little shocked when they came in contact with a robotic camera.

"Typically you look at populations by bucket trapping and opportunistic finding. That can take a lot of time. It's very time consuming," said UNF biology major Alexandra Legeza, who helped invent the robotic camera. "This you can do in a short amount of time. It's relatively inexpensive, which is something we're really shooting for because we want to definitely sell it to other researchers."

The camera is mounted on two tracks that is controlled by a basic video game controller. It has a cable that connects it to a laptop, where the live video from the camera can be seen.

The invention is affordable, adaptable and light weight, just a few of the benefits that Legeza says will give gopher tortoise researchers a step in the right direction.

"If we can make it available to other researchers and be able to look at the population of gopher tortoises, we might be able to help them make better decisions that will help them in the long run," Legeza said.

The students are in the process of getting a patent for the invention so they can help researchers study the threatened species.

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