March 18, 2009 Mosquitoes have plagued mankind since time immemorial. For many they’re just annoying pests that leave an itchy reminder of their bloodsucking ways, but for much of the world’s population they’re carriers of deadly disease – malaria in particular. So far man’s efforts to combat mosquitoes have so far proved fruitless but the Wall Street Journal is reporting that researchers in the US are looking to take the battle into the space age by using lasers to kill the nasty little buggers.
The idea takes the Reagan era Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI - commonly referred to as Star Wars) concept and shrinks it down to neutralize mosquitoes instead of Soviet missiles. The idea came about when former Microsoft executive, Nathan Myhrvold, was asked by his former boss, Bill Gates, to explore new ways to combat malaria. Myhrvold now runs Intellectual Ventures LLC, a company that collects patents and funds inventions, and at a brainstorming session in 2007 the architect of the SDI, Dr. Lowell Wood, suggested such a system could be used on mosquitoes. So they formed a team and killed their first mosquito with a hand-held laser in 2008.
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The researchers have demonstrated the technology, which uses light from a series of flashlights to illuminate mosquitoes in a fish tank. The mosquitoes’ silhouettes are projected onto a reflective material behind the tank and a zoom lens captures the shadows and sends the data to a computer, which controls the laser and fires at the bug. At the demonstration non-lethal lasers were used, but they did present a video showing a mosquito bursting into flames and falling to the ground when hit by a laser. Not only can the system target a mosquito, it can also differentiate a male from a female – the females being the only ones that feed on blood and spread disease.
Having proven that the system can track and hit the mosquitoes, the team needs to decide how strong to make the weapon. The laser has to be weak enough to not harm humans and also smart enough to avoid hitting useful insects. The team hopes that one day the technology could be used to provide a protective laser barrier around a house or village that could kill or blind the pest. Or the system could be attached to a drone aircraft to take the bugs out in mid air. Either way it’s much cooler than using a fly swatter or fly spray.
Source: Wall Street Journal.