Mar
16
2009

Mosquito-wrecking technology to be driving force of 21st century. According to me.

His eyes and nipples are killing mosquitoes: But his robo brain is targeted on humans alone.
His eyes and nipples are killing mosquitoes: But his robo brain is targeted on humans alone.Courtesy TheAlieness GiselaGiardino23
If you’re like me, y’all probably woke up this morning thinking, “I wonder if the end of the world will come with a zombie apocalypse, or a laser-armed, ‘screw you dad, you’re not the boss of me’-style robot rebellion?” It’s a valid question, and the answer could be a major factor in how your week plays out. (Happy Monday, by the way. Way to go on another weekend.)

But, you know what? Zombie apocalypse or robot uprising… who says it can’t be both? Check out The Wall Street journal—it seems to me that well-intended malaria research is making each option a likely future (i.e. inevitable).

All sorts of scientists are getting terribly clever ideas about eliminating mosquitoes (and therefore malaria) these days. The Gates Foundation (among other organizations) has mosquitoes on the brain, and there plenty of money out there for anti-malaria research. And, in the tradition of Bill Gates himself, some of the projects are looking pretty smart, and kind of crazy.

Because the WSJ article only mentions it in passing, I’ll get the zombie apocalypse thing out of the way now. One of the many projects being funded by the Gates Foundation is the brainchild of a Japanese scientist who hopes to turn mosquitoes into “flying syringes.” That horrifying mental image aside, the idea is that mosquitoes could be engineered to deliver vaccinations to their hosts with every bite. It’s a nice idea… but come on! Hasn’t he ever played a video game? Let’s get real here. According to well-accepted science fiction, that sort of project always results in a zombie plague. Zombies, of course, can’t get measles, so the project would technically by a success, but I’m not prepared to get behind that one quite yet.

Now the robot/laser thing… that’s where the thrust of the article is. Apparently there are some astrophysicists out there with time in their hands, and they’re dragging the concept of the flyswatter kicking and screaming into this new century. The flyswatter of the future is similar in concept to the flyswatter of the past (also known as “the flyswatter”), in that they both are useful for killing flying insects. They differ in that the flyswatter of the past is a cheap, hand-operated device, capable of both killing a bug a couple feet away from you, as well as occupying the attention of a 7-year-old for an entire summer afternoon. The flyswatter of the future, on the other hand, is a high-power laser-based, computer-operated weapon, capable of both eliminating millions of mosquitoes within a hundred feet of the device, as well as ending civilization as we know it.

The device is a lot like the ill-fated “Star Wars” laser-based missile defense system tossed around in the 80s. And that makes sense, because the whole thing was thought up by one of the brains behind the “Star Wars” system.

The mosquito zapper works by having a computer visually recognize mosquitoes from a distance, and then instantly blasting them with a laser beam. The laser isn’t powerful enough to hurt a human, but it can turn a mosquito into a smoking husk in a fraction of a second. The computer can even tell the difference between male and female mosquitoes based on their wing beats. It’s an important distinction, because it’s only female mosquitoes that drink blood and transfer disease (whereas males just drink plant nectar).

The prototype that Star Wars-guy’s team is working on is made of parts they were able to find on ebay—a 35mm camera zoom lens, a Dell PC, a few flashlights, a little box of mirrors and lasers, and a 10-gallon aquarium full of mosquitoes. The system was able to bullseye the bugs from about 100 feet away.

Aside from the so far overlooked ethical issue of putting a laser in the hands of a robot (figuratively), the project still has a long ways to go in its development. It currently relies on a reflective screen behind the mosquito tank (the flashlights create a silhouette of each mosquito on the screen, and it’s this figure that the computer recognizes), and, to my knowledge, the areas of the planet affected by malaria are somewhat larger than a 10-gallon aquarium. It still doesn’t quite match up to the low-tech reliability of a mosquito net, either.

The scientists envision a final version of the machine being used to create an invisible wall around a village to keep out mosquitoes, or being mounted on a drone aircraft, which could bring death from above for billions of the bugs. And, naturally, it could shoot hot little lasers at the tops of our heads. (Which I would hate.)

Aside from making the device harmless to humans, the researchers are also figuring out how to ensure that the mosquito death ray doesn’t automatically destroy everything that is small and flies. We don’t want to kill butterflies, for instance, because they’re so pretty. And we don’t want to kill bees, because we need them to pollinate crops. And to make honey. And if the robots do go all Skynet on us, bees and butterflies are probably where they’d start.

Pretty neat stuff, anyhow, and not generally what you’d think of when it comes to anti-malaria research.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

I notice that you have recently blogged about both zombies and vampires. If both were to exist in te wrld at the same time, what would happen, since vampires are living dead?

posted on Mon, 03/16/2009 - 10:24pm
JGordon's picture
JGordon says:

I think the vampires would hate it—like a turnip, you can't squeeze blood from a zombie. The zombies wouldn't care because, you know, they're zombies.

posted on Tue, 03/17/2009 - 9:44am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

That dude is really wierd i rock

posted on Fri, 03/20/2009 - 10:05am
Richard's picture
Richard says:

So if what this article is saying is correct, giant mosquitoes are taking over the world and Bill Gates is going to stop them with an overpowered LED Flashlight?

posted on Tue, 05/04/2010 - 2:05pm

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