Imagine rows and rows of boxes piled up to the ceiling at your local Costco. The boxes are matte black with bold white writing and a robot looking face on the front with beady red eyes. Maybe something like the Terminator, but more kid friendly. Suburban moms in California and Arizona are lining up to be the first on the block to own a personal laser mosquito zapper. Jacqueline from Rancho Cucamonga places her new mosquito zapper in the over-sized orange cart, next to her new cooler with a built in iPod dock, and the ten pound bag of chicken strips. She can already imagine the warm summer nights by the pool, free of mosquitoes. I envisioned the situation for these early adopters to unfold much like the Cornballer as seen on Arrested Development. Kids running around the yard with laser burn marks all over their bodies, hair on fire. You worried about your kids running with scissors? Forget about it. You’ve got a military robot with lasers in your back yard.
That was the scenario that popped into my head after hearing the words laser mosquito zapper, but as I found out more about the assignment, I discovered it was not the next ridiculous consumer item at your local big box store. 3ric Johanson and a team of really bright minds actually came up with this idea and made it into a reality with the goal of wiping out malaria. With a mandate from Bill Gates to think differently about finding a solution to prevent malaria from spreading, the Photonic Fence was born. The technical description of how it works is a little above my pay grade, but by recognizing the size, speed, sound, and speed and insect beats its wings, the Photonic Fence can differentiate between bees, flies, and even male or female mosquitoes. Only female mosquitoes bite and carry the parasite causing malaria, so only the females need to be terminated.
3ric works at Intellectual Ventures, which is a research lab in Bellevue, Washington. In addition to the Photonic Fence, they are working on some pretty amazing projects including a super-thermos to transport vaccines, and a system to weaken hurricanes. While taking a tour of the lab with 3ric, he explained the reason Intellectual Ventures is so different from other labs is they are encouraged to experiment and push the boundaries of what is currently being done. Failure is not something they are afraid of, and they have the luxury of pushing the boundaries because they have investors behind them. Because this type of work is so expensive, however, other labs often don’t have investors willing to take on this kind of risk.
Make is a really cool magazine, and if you get excited about DIY projects, I would recommend subscribing. You can also find out more about the Photonic Fence and Intellectual Ventures at this page. I was really encouraged to see some of the top minds working on projects with the single goal of making the world a better place for people who don’t share many of the luxuries we so often take for granted.
I’ll leave you with a super slow-motion video of mosquitoes getting blasted by a laser. Enjoy.
New Tech Toy I am most excited about right now.