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US: Mosquito-targeting laser still not ready

In a February 2010 TED talk, former Microsoft chief technical officer Nathan Myhrvold demonstrated a mosquito-targeting laser intended for use in disease prevention. (The device is demonstrated using a green laser in this video, starting at about 13:25.)

How has the “Photonic Fence” device progressed? The short answer is that it is still being developed. It is just about to have its first excursion outside the lab.

In a 2,500-word article in the July 24 2017 New York Magazine entitled “Where’s Our Laser-Shooting Mosquito Death Machine?” writer Carl Swanson looked into the Photonic Fence progress.

Swanson visited Myhrvold’s company Intellectual Ventures. He watched a demonstration which he says “is, as you might expect, enormously satisfying. There is the laser itself, aimed by a mirror that is synced to a camera that identifies the pest marked for death based on its shape and size and the distinctive beat of its wing, and a monitor that allows you to watch its autonomous targeting. And it does so fast: 100 milliseconds is the time allotted to see the bug and shoot it for the 25 milliseconds it takes to kill it.” He said the system has killed more than 10,000 mosquitos in the lab.

But the mosquito-targeting system is still in the testing phase. Swanson notes “It’s taken years of development to figure out how to continuously track and identify a specific type of insect and then dispatch it safely and efficiently.”

Eye safety for humans is one consideration: “For instance, for the demonstration, I had to wear protective goggles since that type of laser is not safe for your eyes; I was assured that when it’s market-ready, the laser they deploy will not potentially blind human passersby.”

A major barrier is cost: “And no one has yet worked out how to make the device cheap enough to be useful in the places it is most needed, places where most people’s mosquito-defense system consists of sleeping under nets every night.”

The system “will finally be tested later this summer in Florida, in a screened-in structure, against the Asian citrus psyllid, an invasive bug that is devastating the state’s orchards.” If that goes well, it will then be tested in the open.

From New York Magazine