Microsoft has jumped into the rush to fight back against the Zika virus. Working on the Gulf Coast of Texas, the Windows and Xbox manufacturer is testing a new high-tech mosquito trap.
Health officials believe the new trap will improve their ability to fight infectious diseases.
The traps will be operational by early July, and are expected to speed the process of identifying mosquito-borne illnesses and provide more data about when the diseases arrived.
“It’s going to advance the field of mosquito control in a way that has not been done in this country,” said Umair Shah, the executive director of Harris County public health. “If this does what we think it should be able to do, it’s going to be a real game-changer.”
There are already hundreds of conventional traps placed in the area. Microsoft will add 10 of its new traps to see if they are more effective.
Unlike traditional traps, Microsoft’s devices can alert health officials when an infected mosquito arrives in a trap.
The trap, developed at Microsoft Research, will identify specific breeds of mosquitoes and record when each mosquito entered the device. When a breed of mosquito known to carry Zika or another disease enters the trap, a notice will automatically be sent to Harris County’s public health office.
“That’s the key,” Shah said. “It’s speeding up our decision-making processes.”
Microsoft started working on the trap following the Ebola outbreak in 2015. The idea was to develop a device that can more quickly identify emerging infectious diseases, according to Microsoft’s Ethan Jackson, who leads the project.
As shown in the photo above, the trap is a foot-tall canister that sits on a tripod. The device includes 64 compartments to capture mosquitoes. The trap also emits carbon dioxide, which is known to attract mosquitoes.
When a mosquito enters the trap, infrared light shines on the insect. Based on how the light bounces, Microsoft researchers expect to eventually be able to identify different types of mosquitoes. If a certain type of mosquito flies into the trap, a spring-loaded door will automatically slam shut. If the infrared light doesn’t determine it’s a mosquito of interest, the door will remain open so the mosquito flies back out.
While there are 3,600 species of mosquitoes, only a handful carry Zika, dengue fever or West Nile virus.
Microsoft will rely on Johns Hopkins University to determine the individual breeds and overtime the traps will be able to tell one type mosquito from another.
The traps also capture time, temperature, humidity, and light levels at the time when the mosquito is captured.
Microsoft says it has been able to identify some mosquito types and the Texas test will help validate those tests.