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Bug-zapping lasers to kill flying insects developed

Monday, May 30, 2016,12:28 IST By Metrovaartha A A A

Washington | Scientists have developed a novel laser system which can effectively identify, track and kill flying insects, including malaria causing mosquitoes, without harming other organisms, animals or humans.

Originally invented for controlling certain types of mosquitoes that carry malaria, the system called Photonic Fence, has been adapted for more general applications in pest control for agriculture.

Researchers from the Intellectual Ventures Laboratory in the US selected two important insect vectors as experimental subjects: Diaphorina citri psyllids, a vector of citrus greening disease and Anopheles stephensi mosquitoes, a vector of malaria.

Our study showed that the Photonic Fence is able to effectively track and distinguish between different insects by measuring insects’ wing beat frequency, said 3ric Johanson, a project scientist at Intellectual Ventures Laboratory.

We also confirmed that low-power lasers can indeed lethally disable the Asian citrus psyllid. These findings position the ‘Photonic Fence’ as an excellent tool to help citrus growers contain and eventually eliminate citrus greening disease, said Johanson.

According to Johanson, the Photonic Fence is an electro-optical system that employs lasers, detectors and sophisticated computer software to search, detect, identify and shoot down insects in flight in real-time.

First, the optical tracking subsystem identifies targets from an insect database based on the characteristic data from insects, including flight behaviour, insect size, insect shape and wing beat frequency (the measure of how fast the insect is flapping its wings). With this data the system decides whether a specific insect should be eliminated or not.

Second, the safety interlock subsystem confirms there are no other organisms nearby that could be subjected to collateral damage. Finally, the lethal laser is employed to disable the insect target.

The entire process, spanning from initial target acquisition through the application of the lethal dose, takes less than 100 milliseconds, Johanson said. Used as a virtual fence, the Photonic Fence can be deployed as a perimeter defense around villages, hospitals, crop fields, etc, he said.

Over time, the population of target insects inside the protected region would be decreased to the point of collapse, he added. The researchers believe the Photonic Fence presents a potential new way to monitor and control insects.

A particularly useful case would involve a small number of insects moving into a sensitive area in which current abatement techniques are not effective, such as organic farms and greenhouses.

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