In an effort to curb malaria infections in developing countries, Intellectual Ventures has created a laser weapon to hunt and destroy mosquitoes in flight using common objects found in inexpensive consumer electronics, such as laser printers, Blu-ray disc writers, camcorders, and video game consoles. According to the project page:
The system would create a virtual fence made out of light— we call it a “Photonic Fence.” Light Emitting Diode (LED) lamps on each fence post would beam infrared light at adjacent fence posts up to 100 feet (30 meters) away; the light would then hit strips of retroreflective material (similar to that used on highway signs) and bounce straight back toward the illuminator. A camera on each fence post monitors the reflected light for shadows cast by a hapless insect flying through the vertical plane of light.
When an invading insect is detected, our software identifies it by training a nonlethal laser beam on the bug and using that illumination to estimate the insect’s size and also to measure how fast its wings are beating. Using this method, the system can not only distinguish among mosquitoes, butterflies, and bumblebees, but it can even determine whether a mosquito is male or female! (Females are significantly larger than males and have slower wingbeats.) This is useful because only female mosquitoes bite humans.
Our software is able to track a mosquito in flight once it establishes that it is a valid target. After running safety checks to ensure no unintended object is in view, the system activates a second, more powerful laser that zaps the mosquito, causing death either by damage to its DNA (an unconfirmed hypothesis) or by overheating. The energy levels and light frequencies used are not capable of damaging human tissue, but even so, we’ve built in safeguards that ensure that the system doesn’t fire when anything much larger than a mosquito is in the photonic fence.
However it appears that the technology is still in development while the team tries to deal with engineering hurdles:
Electricity can be sporadic in regions where malaria is endemic, so we are trying to optimize the system to use as little power as possible. We are studying which laser wavelengths are most energy-efficient at disabling mosquitoes and just how much damage one must inflict to the insects to disrupt their ability to spread malaria.
Producing a photonic fence inexpensively enough to deploy in developing nations will require clever engineering to adapt existing consumer electronics technologies for this new application. This approach could offer a new tool for mosquito control that works without constant human attention and with little or no collateral damage to the local ecology. It could thus provide an alternative or a supplement to bed nets, insecticides, and other existing approaches to mosquito population control.
Hopefully these will soon be available in picnic and BBQ versions as well, so lasers can fry those blood sucking bastards while you eat in peace. The only thing you’ll have to worry about then is ants and whether a fried mosquito corpse ends up in your potato salad.