11.05.2016

This drone is fighting deadly disease by spraying thousands of flies all over everywhere

TECH | | |

(Photo: Embention.com)

What happens when drones meet bugs? Not hot drone-on-bug action, as you might expect. Nor is it tiny-scale Terminator slaughter, as you might even more expect. Instead, it’s actually a recipe for good

Hell hath no fury like swarming insects. For farmers they are the stuff of nightmares, wreaking havoc over crops with the potential to destroy livelihoods. But some scientists want to use swarms of creepy crawlies for good, dropping them to the earth from drones.

Embention, a group of Spanish scientists, is hoping to combat African trypanosomiasis – a potentially fatal disease spread by the tsetse fly, more commonly known as sleeping sickness, which causes around 9,000 deaths a year in sub-Saharan Africa. How are they combating this horrible condition? By dropping lots more tsetse flies from drones, of course.

 

tsetse

The tsetse fly, before being chucked out of a drone (Photo: Flickr/Oregon State University)

 

The counter-intuitive project, known as Drones Against Tsetse, is based around a drone that rains about 5,000 sterile tsetse flies from the sky. These flies are unable to breed properly, so eventually they cause the depletion of the existing fly populations, reducing the spread of the disease. The project, which was a semi-finalist in this year’s Drones for Good competition, is being tested in Spain, with plans to take it to Ethiopia and then other countries where the risk of sleeping sickness is high.

Meanwhile, over in Australia, Michael Godfrey, an agricultural science student from the University of Queensland, has developed a system that drops the Californicus mite, a predator bug used to control pests. “Spreading them around a five hectare field is just time-consuming and dull. The drone can cover a field that size in less than 15 minutes,” Godfrey told Fast Company.

So, next time a bug lands in your drink, be thankful – it might have fallen from the sky for a good cause.

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