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Star Wars-style bug zapper about to be field-trialled



July 4, 2017

Photo credit: Intellectual Ventures

A new intelligent, laser-guided bug zapper is about to be tested on the American market that could revolutionise pest control in horticulture as well as public health.

A bug zapper that can accurately identify different insect species and effectively blast them out of the sky using laser beams is exactly the kind of product you’d expect from a company called Intellectual Ventures. Co-founder of the company, Nathan Myhrvold, came up with the concept in 2010 with the original intention of controlling mosquitos to reduce incidence of malaria in Sub-Saharan Africa. The device is now about to be put to the test in a horticultural trial.

The bug zapper creates a 30 Watt wall of near-infrared light and uses camera optics that can detect subtle difference in the morphology and behaviour of insects to decipher target from non-target species. Using this system it can even tell the difference between a male and female mosquito purely by their wing beat frequency.

It can be calibrated to shoot down all insects in its range or be extremely selective in the species it targets.

Technical head for the project, Arty Makagon, claims the laser is both effective and accurate, killing up to 99% of target species:

“Once it validates a target as a bad bug, we deploy the lethal laser. Within 25 milliseconds you have a little insect carcass on the ground. Each wall segment is designed to interrogate and, if the target is on the kill list, it will provide a lethal dose to up to 20 insects per second.”


The Deathstar-like device is about to be put to work for the first time against the Asian citrus psyllid, a horticultural pest whose damage to the Californian citrus industry has reduced production by at lest 70% in the last 15 years.

If it is successful it would be a major revolution for pest control in horticulture as well as public health. Extant pesticides such as neonicotinoids have been linked to a wide variety of detrimental ecological effects since their introduction 30 years ago. Even organic pesticides such as white oil and neem, amongst many others, are blunt instruments, killing off-target species as well.

The accuracy of the new bug zapper could entirely eliminate the need for spray-based pesticides in horticulture.

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