Mosquito prevention: Advanced technology for an advanced problem
Mosquitoes are one of the biggest threats to global health, affecting millions of people every day. While many people think that diseases like malaria affect only underprivileged populations, the truth is that even those in the United States and other developed countries are threatened by dengue, West Nile virus, Zika virus, chikungunya, yellow fever, and other mosquito-borne illnesses. The effects are so severe and long-lasting that the approach to battle mosquitoes must be multifaceted - putting prevention at the heart of the solution.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), mosquitoes are the worst of all disease-transmitting insects. They spread malaria, dengue, and yellow fever, which together cause millions of deaths annually. In addition to the fatal cases, hundreds of millions of people are struck by these diseases each year. There are 20 million cases a year of dengue alone, with 2.5 billion people worldwide at risk of infection in more than 100 countries, and nearly half of the world’s population is at risk for malaria.
Although many western countries don’t usually feel threatened by those fatal diseases, viruses carried by mosquitoes can develop into encephalitis, meningitis and other illnesses. Allergies to mosquito bites can cause severe skin reactions, hives, fever, infection of the lymph nodes, or even cellulitis.
Aside from the diseases that they carry, mosquitoes are one of the summer’s main nuisances. Between their incessant buzzing and the itching of mosquito bites, there are many lost hours of work, play, and sleep. A single female may bite a person multiple times before finding a good blood source, so people often think they were bit by multiple mosquitoes. The itching can continue for days, leading people to believe that they were bitten again - but killing even one mosquito can prevent days of aggregation.
Battling mosquitoes must be handled in the most efficient way - which means taking preventative measures using the most advanced technology available. It’s just like people who care about their health schedule regular doctor and dentist visits complete with a variety of tests and tools. Mosquito prevention, which directly impacts world health, requires the same level of attention and innovation.
There are already some mosquito control measures that can be very effective, but they are not enough to tackle this serious problem.
The most common personal preventative measure is using bed nets. These are common in many homes in developing countries, and are even used in high-end hotels in countries affected by mosquito-borne diseases. But while bed nets are highly effective, they do not provide protection during the day.
Another environmental measure is emptying standing water in and around the home, since standing water is needed for mosquito breeding and larva development. However, while getting rid of standing water is certainly helpful, this is only a drop in the bucket: large lakes and ponds will still support mosquito reproduction.
We cannot emphasize enough that these preventative methods are still very relevant and important. We must continue to do what we are already doing today. However, advanced technology is starting to tackle the mosquito problem as well.
There is work being done currently to release sterile male mosquitoes in order to reduce the mosquito population worldwide. The idea behind this complex work is simple: if we produce many sterile male mosquitoes, they will attempt to reproduce with female mosquitoes. However, since the male mosquitoes are sterile, the female’s eggs will remain unfertilized. Since females typically mate only once, any female who mates with a sterile male will not produce any offspring, thereby reducing the mosquito population.
However, reports show that the "sterile" mosquitoes were able to reproduce, and that the mosquito population rebounded almost to pre-release levels. Additionally, genetic material from the "sterile" mosquitoes was introduced into the local strain, and may have even strengthened the next generation of mosquitoes. Even if the attempt is eventually successful, it will take many years to eradicate the mosquito population. In the meantime, mosquitoes still plague our communities and invade our homes. While we wait for mosquitoes to be wiped out globally, we must develop additional ways to battle mosquitoes locally.
Many homes and businesses use bug zappers, but studies show that existing bug zappers’ blue or UV light is ineffective in attracting mosquitoes, with less than 0.2% of killed insects being mosquitoes. Furthermore, zappers kill beneficial insects, and the blue light negatively affects sleep quality for some.
Chemical repellents are often used while outside the home, but most are ineffective: only DEET offers a few hours of protection if properly applied to the skin. Many people have health concerns regarding DEET, find this process bothersome, and therefore use DEET only in extreme cases in the outdoors.
Fly swatters, handheld zappers and similar products are very effective in eliminating mosquitoes once they’re found. However, mosquitoes are very adept at avoiding human vision, and in most cases go unnoticed until it is too late.
Ultrasonic repellents, candles, mats, wristbands, and similar products have no effect.
Enter Bzigo: Autonomous devices for a pest-free life
It’s clear that mosquito prevention needs a new direction. That’s why we’ve spent the last few years developing autonomous devices driven by computer vision. This allows for specific pinpoint targeting of the pests without damaging beneficial lifeforms, unlike traditional methods of killing insects. As opposed to chemical repellents, we don’t introduce foreign chemicals into our environment. Additionally, many species have developed immunity to various poisons or repellents, which is not applicable to Bzigo’s vision-based system.
The patented Bzigo device uses computer vision to locate mosquitoes inside the home. The device is comprised of an infrared LED, a hi-res wide camera, custom optics, and a processor. Computer vision algorithms differentiate between mosquitoes and other small objects (such as dust or sensor noise), therefore achieving high accuracy and minimal false alarms.
Once a mosquito is detected, the device activates a smartphone notification, and the mosquito’s location is marked by a laser pointer. At that point, the mosquito that has made it inside the house can be easily eliminated.
Many people think it's hard to kill mosquitoes, but the real challenge is in detecting them! Once you know that a mosquito is in the room and see where it landed, killing it is simple. That being said, future versions of Bzigo will both detect and eliminate mosquitoes autonomously.
There are additional applications of the Bzigo technology, including pest extermination in greenhouses and industrial farms, as well as deterrence of other home pests such as food moths and pigeons.