Human Achievement of the Day: Mosquito-Zapping Lasers

It’s hard to deny that lasers are cool, but a lasers that can blast mosquitoes out of the sky, protecting us from the malaria spreading insects, is as inventor Nathan Myhrvold, said “very satisfying” to see.

The laser was demonstrated earlier this year during a TED talk (Technology, Entertainment, Design (TED) is a non-profit organization) presented by “professional jack-of-all-trades” Nathan Myrvold, the former Chief Technology Officer at Microsoft.

While lasers are fun and cool the impetus for creating the device is deadly serious. As noted in the presentation, malaria, the mosquito-borne blood infection sickens more than 250 million people every year and kills a child every 43 seconds. Though DDT had been extremely successful in eradicating malaria in many parts of the world, baseless environmental concerns ultimately resulted in the banning of the technology, resurgence in the spread of malaria, and skyrocketing numbers of people infected.

While DDT has since been re-legalized, many countries, particularly African nations, are wary of using the chemicals. While DDT is still an option, Myhrvold, who created the laser with his team at Intellectual Ventures Laboratory, has truly created a technology that represents a leap forward in pest-control.

For example, as noted in the demonstration, the technology is actually two-fold. First, there is a non-lethal which tracks and analyses insects in flight. It can tell based on size and wing motion whether the insect it is tracking is “friend” or “foe,” even differentiating between the non-harmful male mosquito and the blood-thirsty female mosquito. The second laser then picks out the female mosquitoes and “shoots them out of the sky.” As Myhrvold notes, technology has become so cheap that, “we can weigh the cost of an individual insect’s life.” With this laser — which was built with parts bought on eBay, scientists can pick off harmful bugs while leaving other insects in the ecosystem alone.

High-speed video of the mosquitoes in flight shows just how deadly accurate these laser are and how devastating it is to the insect.