Lowell Wood, an astrophysicist who in the 1980s came up with the ‘Star Wars’ plan to defend the United States against the threat of Soviet missiles, is having his idea implemented on a much smaller scale to combat a far deadlier threat– mosquitoes.
Malaria, a disease transmitted by mosquitoes, is estimated to cause around 1 million deaths each year. By creating a device which can detect the bugs by the flap of their wings, scientists hope they can deploy it to protect people in places where the disease is rampant and protection is sparse.
Funding for the project is being provided by Bill Gates, the Microsoft founder well known for his philanthropic contributions.
A rough prototype version of the device works by shining flashlights into a fish tank containing mosquitoes, and using a zoom-lens from a 35mm camera to scan a reflective sheet behind it which shows silhouettes of the mosquitoes. The imaging data is fed to a computer, which pinpoints the precise location of the mosquitoes, and positions and fires the laser for a kill.
Scientists envision the device being deployed via unmanned flying drones, or as a ‘fence’ around areas with high concentrations of mosquitoes, with multiple devices being set up to create a perimeter around a designated area. Each of those deployment methods will have the capacity to kill or blind billions of mosquitoes each night.