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Idle Science Technology

Directed Energy Weapon Downs Mosquitos 428

wisebabo writes "Nathan Myhrvol demonstrated at TED a laser, built from parts scrounged from eBay, capable of shooting down not one but 50 to 100 mosquitos a second. The system is 'so precise that it can specify the species, and even the gender, of the mosquito being targeted.' Currently, for the sake of efficiency, it leaves the males alone because only females are bloodsuckers. Best of all the system could cost as little as $50. Maybe that's too expensive for use in preventing malaria in Africa but I'd buy one in a second!" We ran a story about this last year. It looks like the company has added a bit more polish, and burning mosquito footage to their marketing.

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Directed Energy Weapon Downs Mosquitos

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  • Nice (Score:5, Funny)

    by girlintraining ( 1395911 ) on Friday February 12, 2010 @04:38PM (#31118350)

    Well, to hell with the green movement... get me another 250 amp breaker box to my house! It's go time, you little bastards. I'm going to put some energy executive's nephew through college!

    • Re:Nice (Score:5, Funny)

      by girlintraining ( 1395911 ) on Friday February 12, 2010 @04:41PM (#31118428)

      P.S. this is the only sexist technology that I fully endorse. Just want that clear.

    • Re:Nice (Score:5, Informative)

      by _LMark ( 173102 ) <> on Friday February 12, 2010 @04:53PM (#31118718) Homepage
      First: What's more impressive than the lasers that fry* the mosquitoes is the targeting and detection system that drives this crazy thing. Many people are looking at this and wondering how you pick out your targets. The system first scans the surrounding space and *listens*. What it is listening for is quite interesting. See, Malaria is an interesting disease because only specific mosquitoes carry it, and only the females. Since there could be many side effects to zapping any insects within range, or even any mosquitoes (regardless of species or gender), the laser targeting system listens for the precise wingbeat frequency of the female [] Anopheles Stephensi mosquito and then zaps only those.

      *Technically speaking, the mosquitoes will not be fried in the final product. In addition to potential danger to other occupants of this system's effective bubble, it is planned for deployment to very poor areas of the world where electricity will likely be at a premium. As a result, they are also experimenting with the minimum amount of energy a laser strike must possess to render the mosquito infertile, because that interrupts the cycle necessary for Malaria transmission between humans.

      • Darwin says... (Score:3, Interesting)

        by kclittle ( 625128 )

        ... the laser targeting system listens for the precise wingbeat frequency of the female [] Anopheles Stephensi mosquito and then zaps only those.

        Darwin says, in a generation or two, the frequency changes...

      • Sell a model I can buy that kills all female mosquitoes within range. I'll install one on the side of my house tomorrow. The Mosquito Magnet is only marginally effective and those run $250 these days. If this can really be done for $50, sell it for $100 and use the money to lower the cost in malaria areas.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      As a Minnesotan, I approve of this device.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by mixmasta ( 36673 )


      It's a shame it only seems to burn their wings off, I was hoping for complete flaming annihilation.

  • Uh oh (Score:5, Funny)

    by IndustrialComplex ( 975015 ) on Friday February 12, 2010 @04:38PM (#31118362)

    Woe be to the man who walks past wearing his fishing vest.

  • by smpoole7 ( 1467717 ) on Friday February 12, 2010 @04:40PM (#31118400) Homepage
    And NOTHING ... I repeat, NOTHING ... is better than burning mosquito footage.
  • I'm from Minnesota, if this thing works that well I'll be tempted to pick it up and put it on a plinth in my backyard. Between that and my mosquito deleto I just might be able to enjoy a mosquito free evenening....
  • With one of these who needs Armageddon?

    A useful, and frightening device. If the neighbors have one in their backyard, I don't want to be in mine. NIMBY , or let me have one on my cell phone.

    • by Firehed ( 942385 )

      Hmm... funny you should mention cell phones. Do you think these things are going to start attacking teenagers with those "teacher-proof" ringtones?

    • Dude.. You give your neighbors the bug zapper.. Every time they smile cause they zapped a mosquito, you'll smile cause that mosquito was attracted to their yard and not yours. You get yourself the laser to pick off the stubborn ones..

  • I thought of this about a decade ago and have been wanting one ever since. Of course I've never had the time or money to build one... Sure, sell them for $50 a pop and I'll buy at least two.
  • by gimmebeer ( 1648629 ) on Friday February 12, 2010 @04:42PM (#31118450)
    ..and a Roomba to clean up the mess, and you've got a party.
  • Evolution (Score:5, Insightful)

    by lappy512 ( 853357 ) on Friday February 12, 2010 @04:42PM (#31118454) Homepage
    When will it be until mosquitoes evolve energy shields?
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Nah! The smaller of the females (survivors) will simply learn how to make the males larger. "The women are bigger. They beat at a lower frequencies" Evolution in action.
      • Then they'll target both genders equally. Then the mosquitos will get a little tougher, perhaps reflective in the appropriate frequency, and learn to play dead and fall to the ground when hit with a laser that doesn't quite kill them.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          Then they'll target both genders equally. Then the mosquitos will get a little tougher, perhaps reflective in the appropriate frequency, and learn to play dead and fall to the ground when hit with a laser that doesn't quite kill them.

          Where they are promptly eaten by a frog. Sometimes, change and predation happens so fast that evolution is not a fast enough process to prevent extinction. Sometimes the change is insurmountable.

          Adios passenger pidgeon.

          • Yeah! Fuck you, Bali Tiger! Get lost, Chinese river dolphin! Hasta la vista, Desert Bandicoot!

            • Re:Evolution (Score:5, Insightful)

              by ElectricTurtle ( 1171201 ) on Friday February 12, 2010 @05:42PM (#31119884)
              The sarcasm between the lines here is of course that some species by being cute are somehow magically important and we should intercede at great cost and labor to do whatever we can to prevent their extinction, regardless of the accepted fact that 99% of all once extant species are now extinct. Humanity is so conceited about how it subjectively assigns meaning to niche species that it thinks that a healthy biosphere is one frozen in time where nothing changes, nothing adapts. Never mind that without mass extinctions in prehistory, there would be no animal life as we know it whatsoever.
              • Re:Evolution (Score:5, Insightful)

                by jeffmeden ( 135043 ) on Friday February 12, 2010 @06:01PM (#31120210) Homepage Journal

                Nevermind the fact that the ecosystems which we *rely on to survive* involve many species, in symbiotic relationships... You can call them cuddly or ugly or whatever, but you can NOT call them meaningless. Your existential rant was beautiful up until the part where you were a completely arrogant ass.

                The "great cost and labor" actually goes INTO their extinction as we destroy natural habitats in search of food, oil, gold, etc.

                Ready for the "big finish"? Hint: this isn't sarcasm...

                If there is another mass extinction, it will INCLUDE US.

                • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                  by Eunuchswear ( 210685 )

                  Uh, whadayya mean, if - we are in the middle of a mass extinction. Whether it includes us or not has not yet been determined. Get back to me in a coupla hundred years (an insanely short timespan for this kind of event, but that's the way it's going).

          • by Binestar ( 28861 )
            Most likely the evolution will be a breed of them that don't fly near people. Net win for us.
            • Re:Evolution (Score:4, Insightful)

              by IndustrialComplex ( 975015 ) on Friday February 12, 2010 @05:30PM (#31119618)

              Most likely the evolution will be a breed of them that don't fly near people. Net win for us.

              I hope so. It also made me wonder about Poison Ivy. That plant is damned lucky that it is hardy, because I can't think of a worse thing to happen (evolutionarily speaking) than to develop a defense which is exceptionally annoying to a sentient creature with access to landscaping equipment.

              I'm sure it worked great as a defense for creatures whose only real option was to 'Avoid that greasy trefoil', but once you add a machete and herbicides into the mix it's amazing how fast a true advantage is turned into a significant disadvantage. I hate that plant so much that I'll cut it off at the roots if I'm just walking through the forest and happen to see it.

              Odd considering that other plants (and domesticated animals ancestors) won the genetic lottery simply by having a useful feature which humanity exploited.

              • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

                by wwahammy ( 765566 )
                Poison ivy covers such massive areas that I don't think humans, short of a scorched earth campaign, could do much about it. In that case though, I think the collateral damage would far outweigh any benefit.
        • I, for one, welcome our new hyper-reflective, hyper-intelligent mosquito overlords.

      • I think this would be a sudden enough change that evolution wouldn't have time to have any effect. It'd be a pretty radical change over a short period. Unless there are currently large male mosquitoes whose wings beat at lower frequencies, there won't be many mosquito Casanovas for the skeeterettes to find. And since they use wingbeat frequency to find each other, the females will think it's another female anyway.

        But, if the skeeters do evolve, there's always a firmware update.

        Personally, I want this, an

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Maxo-Texas ( 864189 )

      Most likely course:

      Female mosquitoes that can sense the lasers at range and randomly avoid them come to dominate the species.
      Unless you have 100% coverage, there will be survivors (for some reason).
      Insects and Bacteria respond really really quickly to selection pressures.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Practically speaking, the evolutionary route would likely be that their wing beat frequency would change - faster or slower enough to not attract the attention of the laser (since that's what the poster above indicates is used for targeting).
  • by Minwee ( 522556 ) <> on Friday February 12, 2010 @04:43PM (#31118492) Homepage
    I love the smell of mosquito lasers in the morning... The smell, you know that burning insect smell... Smells like, victory.
  • PETA ... (Score:5, Funny)

    by A nonymous Coward ( 7548 ) on Friday February 12, 2010 @04:47PM (#31118572)

    ... is going to throw a fit. A pissy hissy little fit. Good.

  • Evolution (Score:4, Funny)

    by hitchhacker ( 122525 ) on Friday February 12, 2010 @04:48PM (#31118594) Homepage
    Great.. Now we can look forward the evolution of the laser-resistant mosquito!
  • by Chris Mattern ( 191822 ) on Friday February 12, 2010 @04:50PM (#31118616)

    ...and that's a cute robot doll [] to shoot the laser at the mosquitos!

  • by hardburn ( 141468 ) <hardburn&wumpus-cave,net> on Friday February 12, 2010 @04:50PM (#31118624)

    "Your donation of only $2 a day could help this African village purchase a mosquito defense laser . . . "

  • That's where the idea comes from :-)
  • You know what's great at combating malaria? DDT. Does anyone know of any negative side effects of indoor use of DDT, to the inhabitants or the environment? Does anyone know of a more effective way to prevent malaria?


    • You know what's great at combating malaria? DDT. Does anyone know of any negative side effects of indoor use of DDT, to the inhabitants or the environment?

      Yeah, DDT was great, before mosquitoes started developing resistance to it. Good thing we stopped using it like a sledgehammer, or they'd all be resistant by now.

      (Oh, and there's the bird thing, but who really needs birds, anyway?)

    • Indoor use? How about this downside: Most of the places ravaged by malaria have little to no "inside" with which to confine the DDT?

      Yes, we know you are making a statement that using DDT to kill mosquitoes and prevent disease is worth the cost of killing wildlife through disruption of the food chain and reproduction cycles of avians. Good for you.

  • I want ONE! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gurps_npc ( 621217 ) on Friday February 12, 2010 @04:53PM (#31118704) Homepage
    Note, I am one of those people who attract mosquitoes. You put me at a pond and I get bit and no one else does. I would pay $500 for a personal mosquito zapper, that works, let alone $50.
  • by LifesABeach ( 234436 ) on Friday February 12, 2010 @04:53PM (#31118706) Homepage
    This lazer device use was banging around in the early 1980's. A couple of grad students from Florida created it. I don't recall how they were able to track the bugs. But they also "tuned" the lazer so that it lasted just long enough to only vaporize the wings. There's just one problem with this device, if the target is between the lazer, and a person's eye.
  • I'd love them to zap bugs in our code.
  • It's friendly (Score:3, Insightful)

    by hitchhacker ( 122525 ) on Friday February 12, 2010 @04:54PM (#31118738) Homepage
    It's a friendly mosquito killing robot here to help you... Until a mosquito lands on your face or near your eyes.
  • Better living through non-chemistry. I'll bet this can be adapted to target clothes moths and case-making moths [], the two species responsible for textile (and other) damage. The things are pernicious; very difficult to remove from a home with an infestation. Perhaps even make the zapper more effective by using it to cover the area where a pheremone trap is located (to draw adults into the kill zone).

  • As a walking mosquito magnet, let me be the first to say "I'm in. Let's do this thing."

  • by Grond ( 15515 ) on Friday February 12, 2010 @05:00PM (#31118900) Homepage

    This came out of Intellectual Ventures, which Slashdot often derides as a patent troll [] that brainstorms ideas, patents them, then lives off of the licensing revenue without actually contributing real products to the world or even prototyping their vaguely defined ideas.

    This shows that IV is quite capable of producing actual, useful products. Its business model is not limited to patent licensing revenue, which makes it more like, say, IBM, than a typical patent holding company.

    Maybe, just maybe, IV is not the evil parasite that many on Slashdot made it out to be. In fact, it seems to be in the business of shooting evil parasites with lasers, which is pretty cool.

  • The original posting has the incorrect name for Nathan Myhrvold. It's Nathan Myhrvold, not Nathan Myhrvol.

  • Sign me up for 10 (Score:4, Insightful)

    by CompressedAir ( 682597 ) on Friday February 12, 2010 @05:09PM (#31119128)

    Knowing this can be done, I bet this would be pretty easy to make.

    You'd take a pan and tilt servo controlled laser, and put sound sensors around the laser. Move the laser towards the loudest noise, fire when the noise is equal on the sensors. Bingo, dead mosquito. Just like a sun tracker!

    Everything else is software, like knowing what frequency to listen to mosquitos on.

    Does anyone know:
    1. How much laser power do you need to kill a mosquito?
    2. What frequency noise do you target?
    3. Is it shark-mountable?

    • 4) how much does it cost to train the shark and maintain the shark pool?

      Don't forget the minor details! :)

  • People for the Ethical Treatment of Mosquito for Urbanization, Nurturing, Colonization and Husbandry (PETMUNCH) is going to sue these people into oblivion!

  • by mi ( 197448 ) <> on Friday February 12, 2010 @05:25PM (#31119466) Homepage Journal

    An improvement in both safety and efficiency would be to use two lasers, each about 60% as strong as the currently used single one.

    The targeting computer would aim both lasers at the target frying it even faster than now. But, should one of the "canons" miss, or should an unintended target come into one of the beams, the "collateral damage" will be much smaller, because the other laser will not be aimed at the same spot.

    I think, the military lasers should use the similar technique — use multiple weak lasers frying the same target from dispersed locations. An unintended object (such as a civilian airplane) flying into any one of the beams will be safe, and taking out the entire installation will be much harder for the enemy. The set can have a cumulative power twice (or more) than is required to destroy one target, while each individual beam is still (relatively) harmless.

    When "healthy", such a setup will be able to destroy multiple targets at a time, and the enemy will only be able to reduce its capacity gradually, rather than all at once.

  • by alanshot ( 541117 ) < minus pi> on Friday February 12, 2010 @05:29PM (#31119580)

    So why in the hell are we not nuking them all? why leave the males? So they can go find females that havent yet penetrated the perimeter and reproduce?

    I say nuke them all from orbit. And biting black flies too.. The island where I vacation every year in Candada is rife with the buggers. you can see dozens of swarms of skeeters the size of a small house (the swarm not the skeeters) hovering near the tops of the treelined fields at dusk, and the flies along the beach in some areas make it impossible to inhabit without a beekeepers suit (they bite through tshirts). One year I had to run a 1/4 mile off the beach because I was being swarmed by the flies. I could feel them bouncing off the back of my head as I ran... not fun times.

I THINK MAN INVENTED THE CAR by instinct. -- Jack Handley, The New Mexican, 1988.