A fleet of unmanned aerial vehicles that scatters swarms of sterile mosquitos is set to be deployed in a move designed to fight viruses such as malaria.
Non-profit technology organisation WeRobotics has been developing drones to carry hundreds of thousands of infertile mosquitos, which will be transported and released in a bid to reduce mosquito reproduction and consequently the amount of disease-carrying insects, and will trial the idea in Latin America in 2018.
“Mosquitoes carry many diseases such as malaria, dengue fever and Zika virus. It makes them one of the biggest animal killers worldwide,” Adam Klaptocz, WeRobotics co-founder, told the BBC.
“There are lots of methods to control mosquito populations – fumigation, insecticide – but they all have downsides. Insecticide is not good for environment and needs to be constantly deployed.”
Releasing sterile insects had been an effective method of population control for a variety of species, he said.
For the operation to be successful, the hundred of thousands of mosquitos that are being transported must be packed into the incubator and released across a wide area. Many areas where malaria and the Zika virus are prominent issues do not have a road network that would support motor operations.
Earlier this year a spokesman from the non-profit organisation said: “The real technical challenge here, besides breeding millions of sterilized mosquitos, is actually not the flying robot UAV, but rather the engineering that needs to go into developing a release mechanism that attaches to the flying robot.
“In fact, we’re more interested in developing a release mechanism that will work with any number of flying robots, rather than having a mechanism work with one and only one drone. Aerial robotics is evolving quickly and it is inevitable that UAVs available in six-12 months will have greater range and payload capacity than today.
“So we don’t want to lock our release mechanism into a platform that may be obsolete by the end of the year. So for now we’re just using a DJI Matrice M600 Pro so we can focus on engineering the release mechanism.”
WeRobotics is active across the fields of humanitarian aid, global development and environmental protection and has also set-up dedicated program tracks that run across all its Flying Labs.