Kinkajou : WHY? This is really weird old dog. Why do you want to zap insects with lasers?
Erasmus : I see the potential.
Dr Xxxxx : I see the necessity. Insect lasers form a new weapon in our armamentarium for disease control. As a technology it can be made to be specific for specific insects. Its usage can be generalised from mosquitoes to many other insects. But only individual types of insects can be slated for termination.
Insects cause human disease. Insects cause plant disease. Many of our current solutions have their weaknesses. So any other weapon that insects cannot evolve to overcome (unlike insecticidal sprays) could be useful. There are many problems with this technology. Implementation and cost issues are likely to be paramount. Software identification systems and modelling systems for insect travel/ distribution and distribution will be essential to make the technology more useful.
Mosquitoes in particular have been named as the world’s deadliest creature. They transmit diseases such malaria, filariasis and many viral infections such as Arboviruses and Dengue fever. Mosquito borne malaria kills about 3000 people per day, up to 1 million people annually. Many of the cases exist in very poor areas such as the tropical areas of sub-Saharan Africa. Treatment is not an affordable option.
Bed nets, insecticides and antimalarial drugs have helped humanity control mosquito borne diseases. Further mechanisms to limit contact between humans and mosquitoes would be desirable.
Goo :Mosquitoes catch malaria, filarial and viruses from biting infected humans. So if human mosquito contact is reduced, the opportunities for the spread of mosquito borne diseases are substantially reduced. The solution is obvious.
Dr AXxxxx : Yes. Just get rid of all the humans and there will be no malaria, no filariasis and no mosquito borne viruses. There will in fact be no lots of things. A strategy that probably has not occurred to many.
Kinkajou: An unusual perspective, but not surprising considering where you are coming from.
Erasmus : People have often abandoned plague cities in droves. Look back at the depopulation of Miami at the turn of the century following a malaria outbreak. Look at the failure of settlements in the Australian Gulf of Carpentaria in the early days of settlement. Mosquitoes drove the humans all away.
But, back to the science. The current design of insect lasers is based on the Photonic fence model.
The Laser Fence Model
Kinkajou : What is the concept of Insect Lasers?
Erasmus : Lasers were first proposed to be used for mosquito control in the early 1980s.
Further financial interest in the concept occurred recently. In 2007 the “Bill and Melinda Gates foundation” requested the company “Intellectual Ventures” to look at new methods of controlling malarial mosquitoes. The technology was a development of the “strategic defence initiative” technologies (SDI) championed by US President Reagan.
Malaria is largely controlled in most developed nations. However, the disease continues to flourish in undeveloped countries and has also become more resistant to pharmacotherapies (drugs).
Initially lasers mounted on flying platforms and mobile (and carried) lasers were suggested. Then they developed the “laser fence” concept. The concept bypasses problems with the use of drugs or insecticides. A major design goal of the project is to minimise collateral damage of insect species. Lasers have an effective range of up to 30 meters.
This developed into the perimeter based implementation called the “Photonic Fence”.
Photonic Fence Deployment
Kinkajou : How does the Photonic fence work?
Erasmus : Infra-red light-emitting diode (LED) lamps are set in a line on a structure such as post or rail. This field of light reflects from reflective strips on another fence post, much like that used on roads and highway signs, and bounces back to its source. Charge-coupled devices (CCDs) similar to the ones used in consumer digital cameras monitor this field of light. The CCDs essentially detect shadows in the light between the posts.
’Anything that walks between that very reflective surface and the camera leaves a very strong silhouette.’
Laser Diode Building Block
It's not hard to recognize when a beam of light is broken. That's used at the grocery store to make the automatic door open. The difficulty is having that broken stream provide enough detailed information that only certain things get zapped.
To be effective such CCDs would require both very high resolution and a very high frame rate. I.e. To detect 600 wing beats per minute, may require sampling at a rate of 4-8 times per wing beat.
Once an insect is detected, a non-lethal reconnaissance laser is targeted onto it. This non-lethal laser is used to determine the speed of the insect, the size of the insect, and the frequency at which its wings are beating.
Mosquitoes beat their wings about 600 times per second, producing the characteristic high-pitched whine that makes for many a restless night. This makes them easy to identify. Anopheles mosquitoes carry their wings in a distinctive manner to many other mosquitoes, so it is not surprising that this gives mosquitoes of this genus a characteristic micro-sound.
Laser Hitting Mosquito In Flight
Erasmus :The information gathered by the non-lethal laser can be used to determine the type of insect, and even its gender because wing beat patterns are unique to each species and gender. This system is proposed to be accurate enough that it differentiates between male mosquitoes and female ones. Special software performs the calculations on the fly (so to speak), to identify the intruder.
For example, in malaria only female mosquitoes bite humans. Female mosquitoes have a profile distinct from male mosquitoes. Only mosquitoes of the genus Anopheles carry the malaria-causing parasite. (Species include Plasmodium Falciparum, plasmodium Vivax, Plasmodium Ovale).The Anopheles species of mosquito can be differentiated form mosquitoes by the software.
Using this method, the system software can not only distinguish among mosquitoes, butterflies, and bumblebee, but many other insect types and mosquitoes as well. In the long term, I think other mosquitoes such as the Aedes Aegypti could also be targeted for their significant disease vector potential.
Once the software confirms that the insect is of the targeted species and gender, a safety check makes sure that nothing is in the way of the laser and the mosquito. Once this safety check is completed, the lethal laser is given permission to shoot.
Erasmus : Laser technology at this miniaturisation level is common and standard as it is derived from recent advances in consumer devices such as CDs and DVDs. Blue lasers are preferable as they have higher power one and due to the frequency are more precisely directable than lower light frequency ( higher wavelength lasers). The lethal laser is fired at the mosquito and is able to kill it mid-flight likely due to overheating effects. In a video published by Intellectual Ventures, the mosquito's wings appear to wither, shrivel up and the body drops to the floor, often motionless. A million people per year die from malaria, and countless more suffer. The fate the mosquito suffers is fast and painless.
The lasers can kill the target mosquitoes in a rapid fire manner, hitting multiple targets within seconds while leaving non-targeted insects alone.
Low energy consumption is key, as the system is likely to be used in places where there is no reliable electricity. The Photonic Fence is designed to rely on solar panels and batteries to keep running.
Erasmus : It is a much more selective killer than most anti-mosquito technology. Sprays and poisons seep into the rest of the ecosystem, and the bug zapper kills thousands of insects indiscriminately. In fact, some models of bug zapper attract mosquitoes without killing them, resulting in more bug bites and friendly insects killed. The laser guided system would differentiate between biting, female mosquitoes, and everything else, making its environmental impact potentially much lower than any other system.
Kinkajou : The photonic fence sounds like a really easy, good idea? Where else could it go?
Erasmus : The agricultural industry is an obvious extra user of this technology. Insects are major players in reducing crop yields. There is ongoing research on the development of light-based alternatives that offer an environmentally-responsible alternative to chemical pesticides.
Erasmus : The problem that I see is in the implementation. Insects can fly over the fences. Unless there are a lot of fences, they can also fly around them. If you kill 30% of the “pest” insects is that good enough?
Perhaps there are other implementation strategies that would be needed. For example having small areas of attractants / crops surrounded by fences may entice these “wild” insects into the range of the laser.
But the usefulness is all in the numbers. It’s only good enough, if it gets rid of enough bad insects. In the long run, it will be all about $ per bug zapped. But, there are also other considerations in these types of analysis such as environmental pollution and collateral species damage.
I think genetic engineering may well be the answer rather than insect lasers in agriculture as this technology allows highly specific targeting, minimal collateral damage and low cost of implementation in broadacre croplands.
Kinkajou : But then, if you are working in vertical farms, it all changes again.
LED Laser Christmas Light
Effectiveness of a Laser Fence Model
Kinkajou : Comment on the Effectiveness of the Photonic Fence Insect Laser
Erasmus : The current implementation of the “Photonic Fence” suggests the deployment of the device on posts around buildings or even whole villages. It is reported to have a capacity to kill up to hundred mosquitoes per second at a range of 30 meters.
Understanding via modelling how mosquitoes and other insects fly between hosts could well improve the cost-effectiveness ratio.
Kinkajou : Comment on the Cost of the Photonic Fence Insect Laser
Erasmus :When considering implementation in poor African countries, cost becomes a critical issue. A prototype of the fence has been built with parts bought on eBay. It is suggested that the Photonic fence can built using standard consumer technology. The laser targeted identification and killing of mosquitoes uses similar laser technology to that found within optical devices such as Blu-ray DVD drives. As these devices use very low power, solar voltaic systems have been proposed to meet their power demands. Power Storage devices of course must be included in the design, as many mosquitoes operate at dawn or dusk or even at night.
Kinkajou : Comment on the Environmental and Ecological concerns
Erasmus : One of the key values of the system its ability to identify different insects. Mosquito species and sex relate to wing beat frequency which can be measured by the lasers. The system can be set to avoid species of insects which do not carry disease or are economically important, such as bees. The laser is targeted and specific, so would not cause the collateral widespread environmental damage occurring with the use of pesticides.
Mosquito Borne Diseases
Criticisms of the Laser Fence Model
Kinkajou : How about some Expert criticism?
Erasmus :Cost and the difficulty of powering the system have been suggested to be deal breakers in the implementation of this technology. In spite of assurances that the technology is made from consumer level equipment currently in existence, the design of the Photonic fence obviously demands a number of specialist components and software.
Another concern is that insects may simply fly over these photonic fences. However, the lasers do have a targeting range of 30 meters. Whether mosquitoes routinely fly above 30 m altitude is of course an issue that needs to be answered before this technology can be implemented. Maybe balloons could keep reflectors in place over a field so that the lasers work upwards rather than downwards. A definite range and usefulness extending strategy.
Bio-control measures are perhaps the cutting edge for the control of malaria. Altering mosquito DNA, introducing hormonal or bacterial contaminated baits to mosquito populations and “bootstrap” genetics technology may be more practical solution for mosquito control.
Lasers are inherently dangerous. However the power rating of a laser designed to kill a mosquito is likely to be unlikely to harm humans. Software that is capable of identifying mosquito flight and counting the number of its wing beats, is perhaps unlikely to have difficulties with the identification of human beings.
Kinkajou: How about any Alternative Uses?
Erasmus : Perhaps the key value of insect laser technology is license potential to combat other insect borne illnesses in the future. However many people are attracted to the technology as an alternative to passive electrostatic insect control systems which have a much more erratic area coverage.
Many humans have problems with insects other mosquitoes. For example some people are allergic to bees and wasps. The capacity to control these insects in the proximity to these particular people could well be valuable and could save lives.
Agricultural pests that can damage plants and destroy crops could be selected for targeting as well.
Insect Mesh Screen
Kinkajou : Comment on Alternative Solutions/ Technology.
Erasmus :Standard solutions for the problem of insect control or mosquito control includes technology such as pesticide permeated bed nets, insect repellent window screens, insect repellents and pesticides and bio-lures designed to sterilize or stop the reproduction of mosquitoes have all been currently seen in use.
Bio lures have been used even in low technology environments. Mosquitoes are attracted to light into carbon dioxide. One solution suggests placing a ring of UV light in the top of the tube. A fan placed at the bottom of the tube sucks the mosquito down into the band where it is killed by the rotating blades of the fan. Because this proposal only uses UV LEDs and the 12 V fan, it is quite possible to use solar powered waterproofed systems for deployment next to human habitation. CO2 generated by the fermentation of beer have also been suggested as a lure to attract mosquitoes into the fan funnel trap.
Pharmacotherapies have been developed to kill the malarial parasite infected people. However multi-drug resistant malaria parasites are becoming more common and new drugs are difficult and costly to design. Worse comes to worse, there is always traditional flyswatter.
The use of pesticides in insect repellents and insecticidal sprays cause substantial environmental collateral damage to other insect species including commercially desirable insects such as bees.
The Difficulty with many of the standard solutions such as bed nets or house door and windows screens is that the control measure does not solve the problem of mosquitoes. That just makes the mosquitoes go somewhere else to look for a meal. So mosquitoes take their opportunities at other times, when humans emerge from protected environments.
The insect laser proposal extends the protective environment for humans from the home, perhaps to the entire village.
Kinkajou : What do you think Goo?
Goo :An interesting proposal. I think you can never have too many options. This solution will obviously not suit everyone. Still I can see that there will definitely always be niche uses, if the technology can reach a mature form.
Laser Cutting in Progress
Dr AXxxxx : Fools! CENSORED "ref ...................." by order of “Frobisher” authorised by “The Commandant”.