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First Automatic Identification of Flying Insects Allows Hi-Tech Bug Zapping 99

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the detect-and-destroy dept.
KentuckyFC writes "Entomologists have never been able to identify flying insects automatically. But not through lack of trying. The obvious approach is to listen out for the frequency of the wing beat. But acoustic microphones aren't up to the job because sound intensity drops with the square of the distance, so flying insects quickly drop out of range. Now a group of researchers has solved this problem using a laser beam pointing at a photosensitive array. Any insect flying through the beam casts a shadow of its beating wings that can easily be recorded at distances of several meters. Using this new device, the team has created a dataset of millions of wing beat recordings, more than all previous recordings put together. And they've used the dataset to train a Bayesian classifier algorithm to identify flying insects automatically for the first time. That opens the prospect of a new generation of bug zappers that kill only certain insects or just females rather than males. That could have a big impact on human health since mosquitoes and other flying insects kill millions of people each year. It could also help in agriculture where insects threaten billions of dollars worth of crops."
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First Automatic Identification of Flying Insects Allows Hi-Tech Bug Zapping

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  • by cold fjord (826450) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @10:32AM (#46524559)

    The Dalek Bug Death Ray?

    • by Virtucon (127420)

      Exterminate!
      Exterminate!

      Hey, wait, what will all the pest control companies do?

    • A few years ago, somebody (I don't remember who) came up with a laser bug zapper that could shoot down flies and mosquitoes. It was accurate, but I doubt it was very discriminatory.

      Couple it with this, and you could have a selective bug zapper that only killed "bad" insects.

      Though I think OP's idea of only killing female mosquitoes (because they're the ones that bite) is misguided. Male mosquitoes lead to more female mosquitoes. If there is one insect that I think could safely (and even beneficially)
      • Meh. Grammar.

        s/mosquitoes would be them/the mosquito would be it
      • by Grishnakh (216268)

        It only takes one male to fertilize countless females. If you want to eliminate a species, you focus your efforts on the females, not the males. We could lose 90% of the human male population tomorrow and our population would be back to normal in a generation or less. If we lost 90% of the human female population, it'd take centuries to get back to our present population. Males simply don't affect population much; kill off a bunch, and the remaining ones have more sex partners.

        • "It only takes one male to fertilize countless females. If you want to eliminate a species, you focus your efforts on the females, not the males. We could lose 90% of the human male population tomorrow and our population would be back to normal in a generation or less. If we lost 90% of the human female population, it'd take centuries to get back to our present population. Males simply don't affect population much; kill off a bunch, and the remaining ones have more sex partners."

          That's true of humans, not mosquitoes. The reason is the low birth rate of humans. But mosquitoes breed prolifically.

          It is true that males can fertilize many females. But because of their high birth rate, this means that killing off the females does not restrict the population for long. At most a few months.

          But kill off the males -- or better yet, as they have done with both mosquitoes and flies sterilize the males but let them mate -- and they produce no offspring.

          That's why most fly and mosquito

          • by Grishnakh (216268)

            But mosquitoes breed prolifically.

            Yes, but even so, female insects can only make so many eggs at a time. Male insects aren't limited to how many females they can fertilize. But I guess the ultimate question is: what's the biggest limiter of population in mosquitos? Obviously it's something environmental, not their birth rate.

            But still, my point is, if you just kill off males, you're not doing as much damage as killing off females; the remaining males will just mate more. Now if you sterilize the males

            • Not an entomologist, but it seems you have some awfully mammalian assumptions here.

              • by Grishnakh (216268)

                I'm not an entomologist either, so you could be right. Still, even though insects lay eggs instead of gestating, I'd think there's a maximum capacity to how many eggs a female can produce in a given timespan, even if she's surrounded by males.

            • Just kill both sexes of the species we'd like to eliminate! Exterminate! There's no reason to be selective.
        • In the 1860s, Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay allied in a war against Paraguay [wikipedia.org]. This war caused the death of ~60% of the Paraguayan population, including ~90% of its adult males. The social effects are still present today, over 140 years later: The country is the most machist in Latin America (which is not an easy feat!), because it became not only normal but positive for a man to have several women. Of course, it also destroyed Paraguayan economy, and to this day, Paraguay is the poorest country in South Ame

      • by Immerman (2627577)

        Well, mosquitos are probably pollinators as well as well as an important food source for lots of other creatures, so killing them all is going to have side effects. Plus there's the whole ethical issue of killing beings that not only have done you no harm, but are incapable of doing you harm - should you be the sort that concerns yourself with such things.

        Meanwhile there isn't a sexually monogamous animal on Earth (plenty pair-bond monogamously, but that's a completely separate issue), so just like stray c

        • Mosquitoes are not pollinators. They can and do harm us and often they're not native to the areas where they are biting us. Besides, we're not talking about eradicating them from their whole range, just killing the ones near us/our crops.
          • by Immerman (2627577)

            Are you sure mosquitoes aren't pollinators? Most plants are pretty good at getting their pollen to stick to the insects that feed on their nectar. And *male* mosquitoes are harmless - they lack the mouth-parts to be able to bite us even if they wanted to. Killing them accomplishes nothing - the mostly don't even generate that annoying buzzing sound when they fly.

            • I stand corrected, they do pollinate. I'd still kill them all near me. It shouldn't really damage their population. Many are introduced here in Australia anyway. Perhaps it will apply selection pressure for mozzies that don't go near human habitation!
      • by tlhIngan (30335)

        Though I think OP's idea of only killing female mosquitoes (because they're the ones that bite) is misguided. Male mosquitoes lead to more female mosquitoes. If there is one insect that I think could safely (and even beneficially) be eliminated from the planet, mosquitoes would be them.

        Except I think mosquitos, as annoying as they are, are still part of the food chain and are still food to a number of other more useful insects and animals, including spiders and frogs. And the larvae are eaten by a few wate

  • http://www.techdirt.com/blog/i... [techdirt.com] Just for info. Not trying to dispute whether the article refers to a true 'first' or not.
  • by peter303 (12292) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @10:42AM (#46524621)
    It will select against all species members with characteristic audio signature allowing the non-charcteristic to breed. Kind of like the explosion of silent rattlesnakes. [newser.com] Hunters have killed the noisy ones.
    • It will select against all species members with characteristic audio signature allowing the non-charcteristic to breed.

      Software can adapt much faster than DNA.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    This was done years ago. You set setup cameras, a light, and a white strip of paper along a doorway or something similar. The cameras watch for a small shadow, the software calculates the bug's location, and a quick laser zap burns off the bug's wings.

    There's also that awesome Star Wars mosquito laser defense system,

    • That's not at all what they're doing.

      In your case, they're just killing anything with wings. The summary makes it pretty clear that the laser is only used to cast a shadow to identify what flying nuisance machine it is. It's the difference shooting everything in sight and only shooting hippies/commies/terrorists/bad guy of the day.

      • But what AC left off was the system with the reflective strip [makezine.com] also has an 'acoustic microphone' for finding the wing frequency. It uses the infrared illumination to find the location of a bug flying through it, then uses a low-powered laser to determine the wing frequency, followed by a shot from a high-powered laser if the detected bug is on the blacklist.
      • Re:Old Old Old (Score:4, Informative)

        by nospam007 (722110) * on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @12:34PM (#46525531)

        "In your case, they're just killing anything with wings. The summary makes it pretty clear that the laser is only used to cast a shadow to identify what flying nuisance machine it is."

        The list of insects I would allow entering my house is rather short.

        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          The list of insects I would allow entering my house is rather short.

          You keep insects out of a house with screens. But how do you keep only unwanted insects out of your garden, or for that matter, off of your patio? Your patio veg would appreciate some pollination, thanks.

        • The list of insects I would allow entering my house is rather short.

          Agreed. But since I they come in anyway, I have arrived at an uneasy truce with the spiders. (no dangerous spiders in this area)

    • by Sockatume (732728)

      Slashdot: not even reading the summary since at least 2003. Probably longer.

  • How is this different than a similar method of identifying bugs from a few years ago mentioned in Make Magazine? [makezine.com]
  • With human reproduction as out of hand as it is we may need all those nasty bugs to eat. Malaria might actually help humanity by exterminating excess population of humans.
    • In practice, this isn't true. Insecurity leads to high birth rates. People who aren't sure whether their children will survive compensate by having a lot of kids.
  • by hodet (620484) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @10:48AM (#46524673)

    Now how do I get one for my backyard? :-)

  • Let's see, an automated laser that can fry bugs from several meters away based on learned heuristics in an optimal
    environment and then presumably ment to operate within close proximity of humans.
    What happens when this system overshoots it's target or misidentifies some random body part or body accessory as
    a target?

    • by MightyYar (622222)

      Keep it all in a 2d plane with grates on it, like a bug zapper. I haven't heard of any bug zapper deaths, though I have faith that the crowd here at Slashdot will find an example.

    • by PPH (736903)

      I really don't know.

      [Quietly takes down laser bug zapper from across the street from KOMO helipad.]

    • by amorsen (7485)

      You have a bug zapper which is able to detect not only distinguish a mosquito from a fly but also distinguish a male mosquito from a female mosquito. You are worried that it will be unable to tell the difference between you and a mosquito.

      I do not know what to say to that.

      • by Wycliffe (116160)

        You have a bug zapper which is able to detect not only distinguish a mosquito from a fly but also distinguish a male mosquito from a female mosquito. You are worried that it will be unable to tell the difference between you and a mosquito.

        I do not know what to say to that.

        You don't think a fluttering piece of paper, fabric, etc... might not eventually cause a false positive?
        Also, unlike in star wars, lasers don't actually stop after a short distance. If you are using them to
        either target and/or kill the target, they will eventually miss or go right through, etc... A backdrop
        would solve the problem but then that kindof defeats the advantage of being able to identify them
        from several meters away.

  • by Bigbutt (65939) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @10:53AM (#46524733) Homepage Journal

    That opens the prospect of a new generation of bug zappers that kill only certain insects or just females rather than males.

    Males are the throwaway gender. Need to get the egg bearing females to reduce the population. Then the males will fight over the remaining females until they're also reduced.

    Win-Win!

    [John ]

    • by lhunath (1280798)

      Only female mosquitos suck blood. Therefore, only the females are a health threat to humans.

  • This is a good watch, although it is not in relation to the shadow detection of insects. It is discussing the laser based insect control but it is still frequency based for identification:

    https://www.ted.com/talks/nath... [ted.com]
    • I really like that talk, and considered building one for my sometimes mosquito-ey back yard. Unfortunately, the laser bit is a problem. It's actually quite powerful. The DIY versions use a surplus tank laser rangefinder which is very not eye-safe. Blinding the neighbors or the dogs seems like a bad idea. There are "eye safe" lasers, but that just means you dump all the energy into the cornea, not the retina. I don't know if that would hurt, injure, or cause long term damage. Also, buying one of them

      • Put it up on high poles and allow it to only shoot down into the ground/fence and wear protective glasses when you must go out there. Or turn it off before going out. Farmers wear all sorts of PPE now, they're not going to mind new sunnies! Have to put up signs on fields/yards...... There must be frequencies that are eye safe.....
  • This sound very much like a continuation and refinement of technology demonstrated a few years back that could identify mosquitoes and differentiate between males and females to only zap the females.
    I remember seeing this [ted.com] TED talk some time back where they had constructed a working rig. At least working under laboratory conditions. Is that the precursor of this?
  • Here come the mosquitos with frikking lasers strapped to their heads!

    Or,
    Can we adapt this to identify hot female humans? (and not zap them)

    Or,
    ahhh,, nevvamind

  • "Would you like the $20 bug zapper that kills all bugs, or the $1000 bug zapper that for reasons unknown allows some bugs to live?"

    "I think I'll take the $20 model, thanks.."

  • go Pweeeuuu, pweeeu! as it shoots them.
    • Cool, need a volume knob though, for night time! Maybe they can vary the power to only blind the bug/damage the wings. Then it may be effective over a larger area too.
  • until someone has a ringtone that sounds too much like an insect....

    • by iggymanz (596061)

      i'm ok with device that destroys phones with obnoxious ringtones. I'd like to bring one on the train with me in the morning

  • I remember this from a Slashdot article back in 2009.
    New laser system targets mosquitos [slashdot.org]

  • So they invented a new military grade radar system for consumer usage in and around the home.

    The military has had these systems (directed-energy radar systems) for use in human targeting for decades. A few capabilities include tracking heart rate, breathe, license plates, and brain waves (mind reading/altering). Fully patented since 1974 by Robert Malech. Details here: http://www.oregonstatehospital... [oregonstatehospital.net]

    There are other uses of radar technologies coming into the consume land including personal cell "cellular"

    • by strstr (539330)

      BTW: the targeting mechanisms for radar can be expanded from any object. Lets say, from humans, to "ice" on the road, to "insects" in the air, to air planes, to missiles, to neurons, to cellphones, to specific people in a database, to cells or bacteria, to even specific types of atoms/material deposits..

      To asteroids, to stars, to planets, to specific energy signatures of any kind - whether those energy signatures be "the color red" or the appearance of a girls face, or radio signals from DNA, or whatever..

  • "That opens the prospect of a new generation of bug zappers that kill only certain insects or just females rather than males."

    It'll take the sci-fi people about six months to take off with this. Here's the opening script:

    (Boy wanting to get rid of his old girlfriend): "Hey babe! Why don't you get out of the car and come inside to my place? See, it's safe: I'm walking inside..."
    (Girl with innocent look): "Sure..."

    (Policeman standing in front of laser-burnt pile on floor with girly bits of cloth sticking out)

  • OK, you've identified a bug that happened to fly past your tiny laser beam. Ignoring the zillion other bugs in your yard that did NOT fly past your beam, now you need to track this bug to confirm its location before you:

    1) Turn on/off a gigantic bug zapper that will zap ONLY the bug you've targeted. And you'll do this by instantly powering up a large UV lamp and power grid that draws your moth straight to your flame?

    2) Shoot the bugger down? With what, a missile? A laser? How long is your gun targeting

  • ...although I think he cast it as a Star Wars spinoff. I'm liking this idea, especially if it's subject to Moore's Law-style cost scaling over time.

  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l4tPrcePdGM

  • The endangered malaria mosquito! Once this majestic creature roamed the plains in the hundreds of millions! Due to habitat loss and human intervention, it now roams the plains in somewhat fewer hundreds of millions! Oh, when it's cute and fluffy like a panda, the eco nuts get all up in arms, but just because it happens to be a blood sucking parasite that spreads a nasty disease, no one wants any part of it! Hypocrites!
  • mosquitoes with freakin lazer beams??

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