Microsoft’s “Project Premonition” aims for the early detection of infectious diseases before they affect the highly populated urban areas, thus preventing endemics and epidemics. As part of this project, a new device is being tested to monitor the spread of Zika virus. This smart mosquito trap will be able to detect specific type of mosquitos and accumulate data on weather parameters (e.g. temperate, pressure and humidity) with time at the moment of capture.
The smart trap uses an algorithm and profiling techniques to identify the different species of mosquitoes trapped based on how they flap their wings as it is a distinctive feature among mosquito types. Additionally, Microsoft plans on placing the traps in remote areas with the help of drones, which will be cost-effective and will save time.
“The idea of Premonition is to use a mosquito as a device that can go out and sample blood and then from that mosquito, we can try to understand what pathogens it might have encountered,” said Ethan Jackson, leader of Project Premonition.“So the technologies we needed to build go all the way to how do you catch a mosquito to how do you get it back to a lab, to how do you analyze it.”
The drones will also determine the areas where certain species of mosquitoes are present in high population. This device has a new technology that detects and captures only the specific type of mosquito desired for research. The Harris County in Houston area, U.S. will be the testing ground for this new mosquito trap as the county has one of the best mosquito control systems in the country. The Director of Operations at Harris County Public Health, Les Becker said:
“In a county with this size and scope, we don’t have the resources to just cover the county and spray, spray, spray. We’ve got to figure out how to do it as efficiently as possible.”
The Houston Chronicle reports that the device uses 64 “smart cells” and can capture about 64 mosquitoes in a testing cycle of 14 to 16 hours. The data is transmitted to a collection center wirelessly while residual data is saved on the memory card of the device. The data collected by Microsoft is quite valuable despite the fact that no mosquito carrying Zika virus has been found yet.
“The data that we’re seeing from even this first week is interesting. We can already see that the traps can distinguish between certain species of mosquitoes in real time,” Jackson says. “If you want to monitor Zika vectors or you want to monitor West Nile vectors, the trap can actually tell them apart and only capture the ones you’re interested in studying.”
The Zika virus is dangerous to the pregnant woman and causes severe birth defects in babies born. The outbreak began from Brazil and has by now affected hundreds of infants and has spread across more than 50 countries in South and North America. As the temperature rises in the upcoming weeks, Zika is expected to reach parts of Europe and the US mainland.