Mapping the Mozzies One Wing Beat at a Time

The Royal Botanic Gardens Kew is developing wearable acoustic sensors that can detect the sound of mosquitoes, help map their whereabouts, and help prevent the spread of malaria and other mosquito-borne diseases.

Author Annalisa Dorigo, 09.01.15

The Royal Botanic Gardens Kew is developing wearable acoustic sensors that can detect the sound of mosquitoes, help map their whereabouts, and help prevent the spread of malaria and other mosquito-borne diseases.

Through the diseases they carry, mosquitoes are seasoned killers. Malaria alone still causes over 600,000 deaths per year, of which the majority are children under the age of five in Africa.

Deadly as it is, malaria is also preventable. Indeed through a combination of preventative and therapeutic measures, the world saw a 42 percent reduction in malaria mortality rates between 2000 and 2012.

In partnership with Oxford University and thanks to a ‘Google Impact Challenge 2014’ 500,000 GBP grant, Kew Gardens is developing miniature acoustic sensors which will allow researchers to identify mosquitoes according to their wing beat (each species has its own unique beat) and to record occurrences of different species.

Together with daily readings of critical environmental conditions, such as humidity and temperature, and the use of remote sensing and detailed vegetation maps, the sensors, which will be embedded into wearable devices such as wristbands, or downloadable in a smartphone app, will not just allow for disease-bearing mosquitoes to be tracked, but will also give researchers a lot of data on how the mosquitoes interact with their environments.

As part of a three-year trial, some 150 rural households in Indonesia are currently equipped with these miniature sensors. The aim is to then roll out the scheme in every region of the world where malaria and other mosquito-borne disease are a threat to life.

Indeed as stated on Kew Gardens’ website “With more than 60 percent of the world’s population routinely exposed to mosquitoes which transmit malaria, dengue fever and other deadly diseases, the potential benefits of the project are huge.”

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