Video of gadget that shoots down mosquitoes with lasers


Here's a video of mosquitoes being shot with Intellectual Ventures' laser zapper I mentioned in my TED round up yesterday. I'm not sure if the soundtrack ought to be "Blue Danube" or "Yakety Sax."

I took some photos of the gadget, along with Intellectual Ventures' project Scientist, 3ric Johanson standing next to it. It was made from off-the-shelf parts purchased on eBay. See them after the jump.


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  1. “I’m not sure if the soundtrack ought to be “Blue Danube” or “Yakety Sax.”

    Cue The Blue Danube, and intercut with appropriate scenes from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

  2. I bet that when these “researchers” were kids they pulled the legs off of spiders and burned ants with a magnifying glass.

    1. Because the use of harmful chemical pesticides to control mosquito populations and malaria is more humane?

  3. I want!

    I want a dozen around my backyard. Let’s see the little buggers evolve a resistance to getting fried in mid-air!

      1. *facepalm*

        PETA sure do seem to thrive on stupidity.

        I once had a PETA member hassling me down the street when I brought up the fact that I strongly support animal testing for medical purposes. This idiot tried to tell me that animal testing has never once helped prove medical techniques can work and in fact has hampered many cases such as proving cigarettes do not harm your health.

        I mean honestly. Have never once helped prove medical techniques? Why haven’t any of the medical scientists noticed this yet?

        1. Not that you can always have a link handy in such an argument, but these detail the importance of animal research for polio, diabetes and rabies.

          http://www.msmr.org/MSMRMonographSeries.html

          A similar organization used to print up cards stating that in an emergency you wish to forgo all treatments that have been tested on animals. Not many takers.

          1. Just the idea of conducting medical research without some kind of animal testing is absurd.

            Doc: “We’ve developed a new drug it might cure headaches”
            Patient: “Oh, what does it do?”
            Doc: “well to be honest we’re not sure. We’ve never tested it on anything, but if you’re willing to take it, there’s a chance it will cure your headaches”
            Patient: “aaahhh what sort of a chance?”
            Doc: “I honestly have no idea”
            Patient: “could it have side effects”
            Doc: “very possibly, but we have no idea what they might be”
            Patient: “could it kill me?”
            Doc: “there is that possibility”
            Patient: “I think I’ll stick with the headaches thanks doc, good luck finding someone to test your new drug for you”

  4. Back in the 80’s, there was a sketch on Not Necessarily the News about this (satirizing the SDI Star Wars program).

  5. I cannot watch video at work but I am pictureing something like the Boss Weapon at the end of ‘The Last Starfighter’. Wasn’t it called the blossom or something?

  6. It’s odd. Intellectually I understand how dangerous and destructive these creatures are, and I wholeheartedly endorse their elimination is as efficient a manner as possible.

    However, seeing them flapping lazily in this video, watching as the proteins in their bodies contract as the heat hits… it’s horrifying. It just seems so cruel. I know that they need to die, and I know that in actuality this is probably as humane as other methods… but still. I don’t like seeing it in such loving detail. Why is that I wonder?

    And I say this as a person who eats meat every chance I get, wears leather, all that stuff. I wish I understood this contradiction. I’m guessing it’s the slow motion.

    1. Having seen, first hand, what malaria can do to a child I found this nothing short of a thrilling, two-thumbs up, four-star masterpiece.

      A slap or a swat would be no more or less humane.

  7. *eeeeeeeeeeeEEEEEEEEeeeeeeeeeee*

    Biggs! You’ve picked one up…watch it!

    I can’t see it! Where is he?!

    He’s on me tight, I can’t shake him…I can’t shake him!

    PEW-PEW-PEW

  8. This is sick and perverted. Mosquitoes have as much right to the airspace as USAF drones manufactured by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems. Get a life you screwey frickin geeks. MAKE something that benefits people and not something that makes mosqitoes get all smokey up in the air dammit!

    1. Back in the nineties I hiked in Western Africa. One night, in the city of Mopti, my friends and I crashed at the Peace Corps House there but it was full with incoming members so they could only afford us space on the roof. Lots of other folks were up there, we drank, much and during my drunken slumber I rolled over and my arm fell out of the mosquito netting. I joked in the morning that I was going to pay for that one later. We get back state side and my fiance and I find that we only have 3 of the required 4 lariam pills. So I chest thump and let her take the last two, I take just one.

      Fast forward 18 months and what I initially thought was the flu turns out to be full blown malaria, with requisite 106 degree temp, hallucinations, (we’re talking George Lucas level special effects here, feeling the grass, breeze, seeing elephants in the distance, the sun, then zap, back in the bedroom and puddle of sweat), some Jack Nicholson Shining level like crazy huddled in the corner thinking I am going to die, a visit to the ER with an eye roll when I said I thought it was malaria and then a OMFG after the test came back positive and a tsk, tsk, another two or three days you’d be dead admonishment…

      what’s the stat, a kid dies in Africa every 43 seconds from malaria…unless you’ve danced with that devil you have no idea how awful that death can be…the fucking parasites doubling up inside you every 48 hours or so, destroying you from the inside…so for all the PETAs with their mosquitos have a right to exist complaints fuck you and fuck them.

      Despite my experience I wouldn’t want to see the mosquito eradicated, I saw the Lion King, circle of life and all that and I agree whole heartedly, but if you can set up a mosquito free perimeter in a village or town and save a bunch of kids from dying a miserable death then why not?

      1. Because Mosquitos have the same right to this planet as we do.

        /bullshit

        Malaria does not sound nice. If they can kill people in a horrific death by infecting us (accidentally or not) then I think a humane zap that takes a 1/10th of a second is 100% justified and PETA morons can go live in a swamp with all the mozzies they want.

  9. Cue Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head, and intercut bicycle-riding scene from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

    1. Heheh! I particularly like the Ride of the Valkyries so far.

      More Kubrick: Cue We’ll Meet Again, and intercut atomic bomb explosions from Dr. Strangelove.

    1. Heh! Cue Duran Duran’s A View to a Kill…come to think of it, that could work with any Bond theme.

      Lots of mosquitoes in some of those Bond films, of course.

  10. Wow, even for a PETArd, that thing about “dealing kindly with insects” is teh stoopid. Watching them die “no doubt in great pain.” Gods. Learn something about insects, for gods’ sake.

    But learning and PETA are opposites as well. Gag.

  11. Actually, it would be better to cue “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” and intercut the Spiderman No More sequence of Spiderman 2.

  12. Now, how do I get this rig small enough to be shoulder mounted? I want to play “Predator” out in the great outdoors.

  13. Put this in a clean package you can sell at Home Depot and you could sell one to every house, front porch and back porch in america (at least south of the mason-dixie line) for $1000 a pop and nobody would blink an eye at the price if works as advertised.

  14. How practical is this? Is this just a controlled demonstration with no practical application? I just can’t see this being deployed. It’s satisfying, but ultimately silly tinkering.

    If this worked, and was this easy, then I won’t have to wait very long for the video of the air force using one to fry an airplane out of the sky. Talk about awesome.

  15. Life imitates art. This exact device, down to the way it detects targets, was described in “Earth” by David Brin. The only difference was that his device targeted Africanized bees.

  16. On the one hand, there’s a contribution to the preservation of our species (which is nice). On the other… Well, if we eradicate all of the mosquitoes, what are the bats going to eat (and so on, and so on…)?

  17. How sophisticated and fast is target tracking and acquisition?
    I would love to have one in the summer by a river in equatorial latitudes …
    How portable? power?

    LOL

  18. I’m reminded of a 70’s commercial for bug zappers featuring Vincent Price rubbing his hands and cackling “Isn’t it wonderful?” I have much the same reaction.

  19. I worked as a network admin at a medical research lab in Boston that tested on animals; mostly bunnies, hamsters and guinea pigs, some mice and rats. There were occasional protesters in the street. One of them accosted me once and asked me if what “I” was doing was worth the life of hundreds of innocent animals. My reply:

    “I’m the computer guy, but yeah. I think what *they* are doing is worth it. They’ve already developed methods of getting IV nutrition into people much faster so that trauma victims don’t die while waiting for their body to digest standard fluids. Now they’re working on ways to help burn victims metabolize fats much faster so that their skin will grow back in half the time. That research may also help treat high cholesterol and keep people from dying from heart attacks or having more of them. So, yeah. I think it’s worth it.”

    In the lobby of the lab there was a large poster of a little girl in a hospital bed surrounded by stuffed animals. The caption read, “The animals that saved this girl’s life aren’t in this picture.”

    Animals are important, yes. People are more important.

  20. The world ended not with a bang, but with the pew pew pew of a billion laser mosquito collateral damages.

    Remember the rash of stories a few years ago about people trying to blind and distract pilots with laser pointers? Yeah.

    Check out the 4:37 mark of this video clip for an early prototype of the mosquito laser in action.

  21. While this splendid machine is definitely a step in the right direction, it will never be truly satisfying unless they get it to produce the proper Star Wars sound and light effects. That dutch video spoof had it right.

  22. Yeah…But this is no answer for the Cruise Mosquito currently under development in Guyana…It uses a ground hugging technology to evade radar and is designed to pop up in altitude just before delivering it’s deadly payload…

  23. See, mosquito interception lasers are not insignificant in themselves, but the development of this technology is an important step toward… um… the uh… Sorry. I got nothin’

  24. If I was going to remix this, I’d do it in the vein of defense industry videos. Upbeat militaristic sound track, manly voice over, talk about how this will help the “warfighter” (one word) of the 21st Century, how it helps the warfighter meet the challenges of the evolving threats of the 21st century, etc. Lastly something like, “Can we afford NOT to have this weapon?”

  25. Possibly not a great idea to vaporize known viral disease vectors– whatever viruses they were carrying are now potentially aerosol.

    Still, very neato.

  26. It’s not impossible. I used to bullseye mosquitoes in my T-16 back home, they’re not much bigger than two millimeters.

      1. Yes, that’s astonishing, isn’t it? Bravo, Reid!

        I’m a vegetarian, but when I see PETArds protesting I want to bite the head off a live “sea kitten” in front of them. They’re also the ones who made me want to get a t-shirt that said “DEATH TO ALL BUNNIES” on it. (I thought better of it when the PETA rage subsided.)

  27. I cut stuff with lasers every day. No wow factor there.

    Show me the mosquito detection/tracking/targeting bit of this, show me that it works, show me that it’s cheap, and I’ll be impressed.

  28. Cool idea, but impractical and redundant.

    A mosquito trap works far more efficiently. It’s basically a cow emulator, which is irresistible to most mosquitoes. According to what I’ve read, a mosquito trap run and maintained non-stop for three months (one full season) can collapse the local mosquito population.

    The problem is that mosquito traps are too costly for the average person. While the laser device is honestly interesting, it seems like an engineer’s time would be better spent finding ways to make the existent technology more prolific.

  29. “On the one hand, there’s a contribution to the preservation of our species (which is nice). On the other… Well, if we eradicate all of the mosquitoes, what are the bats going to eat (and so on, and so on…)?”

    Who is talking about eradicating them. Assuming for one second that this works like a charm, and miniaturisation makes it as common as cellphones. You could have one on every back porch, as one poster said – and so keep mosquitos out of human-populated areas, without having to eradicate them.

    Admittedly, they would probably also kill other insects, unless the targeting is REALLY good. That would mean that our gardens wouldn’t have any birds either. So back to stage one…

  30. Love the comments – – to answer some questions:

    1. We specifically lock onto the body size and wingbeat frequency of the insect, which allows us to figure out a shocking amount of information: Genus of the insect, gender, etc. So dont’ worry about lazoring your neighbors cat or your birds. Besides using a very low laser power, this additional ‘check’ ensures that humans are also not harmed, unless they beat their wings at the same frequency of a mosquito.

    2. The highspeed videos show ‘excessive’ amounts of power – – it turns out you can use rather small amounts of power to reduce populations and have a drastic impact on the spread of malaria. Mosquitoes are born ‘clean’ – -they need to bite an infected human, wait 11 to 14 days, and then bite a 2nd clean human to pass the parasite along. So if you can reduce the lifespan of the insect to say.. under 10 days, then you’ve had a profound impact on the local malaria infection rate.

    3. Bed nets, traps, and other related tech have problems. Most of them are related to environment or impact – – (bed nets used for fishing, traps impacting other insects, etc). This is why it’s worthwhile to explore out of the box solutions to this issue. This is a complex subject, but I’m happy to field specific questions if I can.

    Cheers,
    -3ric Johanson

    1. Specific questions? OK:

      What is the wavelength, pulse width, rep rate, beam size, average power of the laser? Does it require focusing on the target, or use a collimated beam?

      What is the maximum range of mosquito detection? Is it purely acoustic? How accurate are the targeting data? How does ambient sound affect the range? What about multiple mosquitoes- can the system track more than one at a time?

      What is the typical time from detection to positive identification?

      What is the typical time to slew the optics to aim at the mosquito? How far can a mosquito fly during this time? Does the system have to track the mosquito to ensure accurate targeting?

      How much laser energy is needed to have the desired effect on the mosquito? How long of an exposure is required?

      What is the effective range of the system (min and max) and what are the limiting factors?

      What is the equivalent CDRH classification level for this laser system?

      What is the power source for this system, and how much power does the system use in operation?

      How would this system most effectively be deployed to combat malaria?

  31. Thank you for taking the time to post questions. I am in fact working on a more detailed blog post to answer these questions and more.. however, let me respond to a few here…

    Lasers: There are many different wavelengths which are effective at this. The short answer is it takes somewhere between 1/5 and 1/10 of a joule to kill them.

    Optics: At the distances we are talking about, nothing is really collimated. It is a long slow focus, keeping the spot size small from 50% to 100% of the distance. The idea is that a different system on the ‘other side’ covers the balance of the depth of field.

    Detection: It’s optical. Not acoustic. We use very low power lasers to get a strong optical wingbeat frequency back. This signal is collected on a photodiode. The total time to lock on the wing beat is fast; we only need to run an fft plus some filters on the signal.

    Operation: The max range is likely limited by the environment, but is absolutely limited by the diffraction limitations of glass. My test rig at the lab is 100 feet, but three + times that isn’t at all out of the question.

    Power: The power consumption and duty cycle is low; this can be solar powered.

    Deployment: A set of fence posts create a barrier. Several barriers may be required to be effective. It’s really too soon to accurately answer this question until it’s field tested,however, we are running several simulations which will give us a pretty good idea.

    More info soon!

    Cheers,
    -3ric

  32. Awesome, from the app to the photography, I need this kit in my mozzie ridden house by the river in France!

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