Drone Business & Disease Prevention

While you may think that drones and insect studies have little to nothing in common, you’d be surprised to hear that Microsoft is working on a project to use drones for exactly that. While the plan is in its early stages, Microsoft plans to build the next mosquito trap using drones.

The project as a whole, named “Project Premonition”, has the goal of distinguishing pathogens in animals that can make them sick before affecting humans. As part of the project, drones will first be used to fly through the wilderness and collect mosquitoes for analysis. Once captured they will return to the laboratory, where the mosquito blood will be sampled, allowing for any pathogens to be detected. The idea is that in finding these pathogens early, before they have spread to humans, they can get ahead of mosquito-borne epidemics before they start. “The ability to predict an epidemic would be huge,” said Douglas Norris, a professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in IFL Science.

Current mosquito traps have not been updated since the 1960’s, and often require battery changes a few times a year, and in some cases dangerous chemicals. Traditional means to trap mosquitos also require bait, which isn’t always readily available. The traditional traps are also not entirely efficient, as they can’t decipher between insects, so mosquitos are collected among other insects which researchers then have to sort through. The drones used in Project Premonition are planned to overcome a number of these problems and will use a sensor which will have the ability to sort out mosquitoes from other insects automatically saving researchers valuable time. It would also use chemicals to preserve the mosquitoes for examination.

“This is at least a five-year vision, no doubt about it,” said Ethan Jackson, the Microsoft researcher who is spearheading the project in IFL Science “But along the way, the advances we make in each of these areas have a lot of value in their own right.” While it is still early in the project to determine the impact it may have if all goes to plan this could have an extremely positive impact on early pathogen detection, and epidemic prevention.

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