Researchers are developing technology to detect disease-causing mosquitoes.
Mosquitoes inhabit different regions of the world, with more than 3,000 species already identified. Some of these are vectors of transmission of various diseases, such as malaria, yellow fever or dengue. According to the World Health Organization, 627,000 people died from malaria in 2020.
Precisely to control the spread of mosquitoes, the researcher Dinarte Vasconcelos is developing a technical solution in the context of his doctoral thesis. “My research is aimed at producing an economically viable solution packed with sensors that can detect mosquitoes and distinguish them from other insects,” says the researcher. Nuno Nunes and João Pedro Gomes, professors at the Instituto Superior Técnico and researchers at the Institute of Interactive Technologies(ITI) and Institute of Systems and Robotics(ISR), respectively, advise the research project.
Initially, the team tested microphones that captured the sound of the mosquitoes’ flapping wings. “Because the frequency of wing flapping varies between species, it is possible to recognize the pattern of the species found by the microphones,” explains Dinarte Vasconcelos. However, this approach only allowed measurements within a short range and the system was not prepared for background noise. With the inclusion of optical infrared sensors, it was possible to extend the range of the system and make it resistant to ambient noise. However, the existence of multiple types of insects requires the use of artificial intelligence to achieve better results. “We need a database to identify which of the detected insects are mosquitoes,” he adds.
A female mosquito can hatch between 100 and 200 eggs in 7 days under favorable conditions, so the prototype must be able to distinguish between males and females. “The lab tests we did in collaboration with the Natural History Museum of Funchal show that our system correctly identified more than 90% of mosquitoes in terms of species and sex,” says Dinarte Vasconcelos. Dinarte and team conducted further tests in Thailand in collaboration with Mahidol University, where malaria-transmitting mosquitoes –Aedesandanopheles, be present. The researchers conducted experiments near the Rajanagarindra Tropical Disease International Center (RTIC). Here the team placed light and dry ice traps to attract mosquitoes. They designed these tests to calibrate sensors, identify problems and improve detection in a natural environment.
Once completed, the prototype will transmit information via radio frequency to health authorities to transmit data as it is more energy efficient than Wi-Fi, allowing real-time mapping of mosquito presence. In this sense, the Interactive Technologies Institute, University College London and the Regional Directorate of Health of Madeira have signed a research protocol to develop a monitoring system on the island of Madeira.
In the future, researchers want to further develop the technology so that it can distinguish between mosquitoes and other insects. In addition to serving the original purpose, researchers can use the same technology to track other insect species of particular interest, such as bees and other pollinators, whose populations have lived through the years.
Institute of Interactive Technologies