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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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  • 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?
  • by mhajicek ( 1582795 ) on Friday February 12, 2010 @04:49PM (#31118610)
    Heck, mount it on the roomba to patrol.
  • by A nonymous Coward ( 7548 ) on Friday February 12, 2010 @04:51PM (#31118670)

    Travel time is instantaneous for all practical purposes. If you think you need the distance to know what to shoot and what not to shoot, that's only half the problem. The real problem is what about the parts of the laser beam that aren't intercepted by the mosquito? I realize lasers do gradually expand, but not enough to avoid zapping the people nearby.

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • by AdmiralXyz ( 1378985 ) on Friday February 12, 2010 @04:59PM (#31118870)
    I'd be shocked if this laser is more powerful than 100 milliwatts (and it's probably much less), since even on the mosquito it doesn't appear to cause any damage to the main body, just the delicate flesh on the wings (according to the video). I wouldn't stare into it for long periods of time, but on your skin (and on brief exposure to the retinas), you'd be fine.
  • by IndustrialComplex ( 975015 ) on Friday February 12, 2010 @05:08PM (#31119118)

    The Future's so bright... I wear my sunglasses at night.

  • 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?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 12, 2010 @05:16PM (#31119268)

    Full disclosure: I am not a biologist by any means, so I might be wrong here.

    Annoying as they are, mosquitoes are an exceptionally important part of the food chain. To eliminate them would have massive repercussions on the rest of the chain. I heard from a biologist once that the lower you are on the food chain, the more important you are.

    Think about it - if you eliminate mosquitoes, things that eat mosquitoes (bats, small spiders, birds, whatever) will have a plentiful food source eliminated.

    They will either adapt or die; more likely die as adaptation takes a long time. This means that things that eat THOSE animals will have a plentiful food source eliminated.

    And so on.

    All because we get annoyed - and yes, malaria is a problem, but let's be a little bit darwinian here - by some tiny flying insects.

    Seriously, how self-centered are we?

    Oh wait...

  • by John Hasler ( 414242 ) on Friday February 12, 2010 @05:25PM (#31119456) Homepage

    3. Mount it above eye level and design it so that the beam cannot be deflected below the horizontal.

  • Re:Evolution (Score:3, Insightful)

    by VorpalRodent ( 964940 ) on Friday February 12, 2010 @05:27PM (#31119508)
    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).
  • Re:Nice (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 12, 2010 @05:27PM (#31119514)

    Mosquitoes not fried? That ruins the entire concept for me. I want to kill the little bitches. It's war baby!

  • 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.

  • by ae1294 ( 1547521 ) on Friday February 12, 2010 @05:31PM (#31119626) Journal

    Well, why doesn't DARPA fund this then

    Because it already exists and works?

  • by bami ( 1376931 ) on Friday February 12, 2010 @05:32PM (#31119648) Homepage

    Only if the laser and the targeting sensor are on the same position. Otherwise, the farther you go, the more inaccurate it will be.

  • by GiveBenADollar ( 1722738 ) on Friday February 12, 2010 @05:37PM (#31119776)
    I for one support the overthrow of our mosquito overlords.
  • 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.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 12, 2010 @06:19PM (#31120550)
    There's a problem with that: 1mW per square centimeter isn't enough to kill or injure. It's so little power it's a bit hard to detect. A laser pointer is roughly 5mW, and the dot space is usually about 0.1 square centimeters, so even with a lowly laser pointer we're already at 50x more power. And I can tell you from experience that a laser pointer doesn't injure mosquitos. You can handle about two orders of magnitude more light intensity on your skin than your eyes can handle, because the lens/cornea system in your eye is a fantastic light concentrator and it doesn't take much light to start burning holes in your retinas. Obviously, sunlight will do a good job of burning holes in your retinas if you're patient, and it's a kilowatt per square meter -- which, by the way, my back-of-the-envelope calculations say is 100mW per square centimeter, but it's clearly not killing mosquitos very quickly.

    I know from experience that a 300mW laser focussed to a 0.003 inch circle will cut cleanly through polyimide film at several meters per second. Polyimide has an optical density somewhat greater than mosquito wings, but is also significantly thicker. I'm guessing the laser they're using is in that power range, however -- probably closer to 100mW than 300, but definitely in the range that even a reflection off a nearby shiny surface would result in immediate eye damage.

    One challenge with this is beam spread. It's easy to use a lens to focus almost any laser of reasonable beam quality down fine enough to cut holes in things, if you know the distance of the target, because that's where you put the focal point for the lens. It's a lot harder to build an optics system that can shoot a beam capable of cutting holes at an arbitrary distance, without relying on a (hard-to-make, expensive, hard-to-keep-clean) convex front surface concentrating mirror of exceptional quality. Once I can get to the article, I'm really looking forward to seeing how they managed this.

  • Re:Evolution (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Eunuchswear ( 210685 ) on Friday February 12, 2010 @06:26PM (#31120698) Journal

    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).

  • Re:Nice (Score:2, Insightful)

    by shadowfaxcrx ( 1736978 ) on Friday February 12, 2010 @06:53PM (#31121162)

    The trouble with rendering them infertile is that the already-fertile females who are out looking for their meal of blood aren't going to realize they've been stealth-spayed, and are going to bite anyway. Seems wiser to keep the thing set to kill.

  • Re:Evolution (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Jah-Wren Ryel ( 80510 ) on Friday February 12, 2010 @06:58PM (#31121238)

    It is certainly possible to detect the reflection of the laser off a nearby object, like say, another mosquito.

    That's the way the lidar detector in my car works - if the cops illuminates a car in front of me, I've got a chance of detecting a reflection and slowing down down before he points his laser at my car.

  • Re:Nice (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ppanon ( 16583 ) on Friday February 12, 2010 @07:23PM (#31121540) Homepage Journal

    Ah, that's a good point, but the counterpoint is that the spayed female mosquito is going to keep attracting males and may keep those males busy enough that, given the short reproductive lifetimes, they miss the chance at fertilizing the eggs of a fertile female. If you sterilize 90% of the females, that may cause the same effect as if you killed 98% of them (similar to a vaccination herd effect). So, not so good to protect you locally but better in the long run. If you have to place the devices where humans can't be because they could accidentally cause blindness, then they're not very useful for direct protection but more useful for limiting reproduction.

    That said, I think somebody else put their finger on how it will fail - selection pressure will change the common beat frequency for the female anopheles mosquito. It's probably related to size, and this will therefore select for a different size of female by letting them survive. Hopefully a production version of this thing can take a firmware upgrade that changes the targeted frequency range.

"The way of the world is to praise dead saints and prosecute live ones." -- Nathaniel Howe