Laser fences: from killing mosquitoes to protecting crops

A few years ago, I stumbled upon a TED talks video that blew my mind. It was about a new technology by Intellectual Ventures for identifying and shooting mosquitoes with lasers while they are flying. They even had a slow motion sequence where you can see a mosquito being zapped while in mid-flight.

Just imagine the health problems it could diminish, limiting the spread of Malaria and all sorts of fevers in developing countries! If only this mosquito killing laser technology could be rugged, eye-safe, and mass-produced, it would help out so many people!

But as years flew by, I did not see more news about this venture, and the dream became a faint buzz at the back of my mind. With the Zika epidemic that we hear so much about nowadays, this buzzing is coming back to me.

Where are the mosquito laser fences now?

Almost ten years later, what happened to the mosquito laser defense system project? I’m not the only one who wonders about this, and Carl Swanson from the NY Mag investigated. Apparently, Intellectual Ventures is still working on this project and they have found new ways to use it in a more commercial way.  

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They are modifying their original concept to identify different kinds of bugs, like the Asian citrus psyllid, a pest in the orchards of Florida, or the phylloxera, a grape fly that destroys vineyards. Using lasers to control pests in agriculture would reduce our global use of pesticides. It would therefore be a very clean way to help out agriculture, as long as the system doesn’t zap bees too!

Laser light shows for birds

In a less lethal project, researchers in Europe noticed that birds can be scared off by lasers. Similarly to how a cat tries to hunt the red spot of a laser pointer when it is shining off from the floor, many birds see the moving spot of light as a predator approaching them.

A good thing about this is you don’t need a high-power laser to scare away a bird because you’re not zapping anything after all: so, low-power, visible lasers are fine. The LIFE Laser Fence project brought this concept to the next level and introduced a complete system equipped with a green laser that can be installed in a field to scare off pests automatically.

See in this video how the geese fly away when the green laser is “running” towards them.

High-tech laser scarecrows are being tried out all around the world to protect different kinds of crops. I’ve read about automated lasers systems being used in Western Canada to scare off the Canada geese that pass through the region every year, ravaging crops.

Blueberry growers also increased their revenue by 33% by preventing birds from eating up their ripe fruits. Lasers have even been used to keep chicken safe from the avian flu by scaring off wild birds that would fly by.

On the safety side of things, since these technologies are pretty much light shows with the purpose of scaring animals instead of entertaining people, the usual laser light show safety considerations still apply.

Will mosquito laser fences and other laser crops defense systems become mainstream soon? I hope so! How about you?

Gabrielle Thériault
Gabrielle is the marketing manager at Gentec-EO.
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