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The Buzz

Nonprofit Looks to Drones to Fight Off Mosquitoes




Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Could drones be the answer to significantly cutting down mosquito-borne illnesses worldwide? 

That's the hope of WeRobotics, a nonprofit that focuses on using emerging technology to improve the lives of those in developing countries.

Getting mosquito populations under control is one way to do that and the benefits go far beyond preventing people from being like this while in the great outdoors:

 

According to the World Health Organization, mosquito-spread diseases result in more than 700,000 deaths worldwide each year and to combat that eye-popping number, scientists have come up with an experimental way to sterilize mosquitoes. These modified male blood suckers will mate with a female and produce no offspring, thus reducing the population.

But distributing sterilized mosquitoes in some parts of the world — such as spots in Latin America where Zika virus is a serious public health concern — pose some challenges.

"Not everybody lives next to a road," Patrick Meier, executive director of WeRobotics told Public Radio International. "Even if roads do exist in some of these areas, they look very different when the rainy seasons hit. ... And of course when it rains ... you have pools of standing water and even more mosquitoes."

That's where drones come in. They can overcome those challenges by dropping the mosquitoes from hundreds of feet in the air. However, with one solution for a problem comes other challenges. 

"A mosquito that comes out of a drone damaged, or dead, is not going to mate with females," Adam Klaptocz, WeRobotics co-founder told BBC.

A mission could include up to 100,000 mosquitoes being released from a modified drone, where they're spread out over a grid pattern. Prior to being dropped, they need to be in a "kind of sleep state," according to Meier, to keep them from killing each other.

The drone prototype accounts for that by cooling the box they're in to put them into that "sleep state," but that brings up another potential problem.

"How do you ensure that as they're falling from the release mechanism, they actually wake up in time before they go splat on the ground?" Meier said.

WeRobotics hopes to find out soon enough and is targeting a trial in Latin America in 2018. The group will focus on areas at risk of Zika.

What can I do to win the battle against mosquitoes?

Odds are you don't have any genetically modified mosquitoes and you don't have a drone. But there is one simple thing you can do to help make your backyard one you can enjoy in the summer without constantly swatting through the air.

Consider this: Install a bat box in your own yard. It's fairly easy to do and will not only serve as a summer roosting habitat for bats, but they'll do the dirty work for you. 

How much dirty work? A single little brown bat can eat up to 1,000 mosquitoes in an hour.

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