The researcher Dinarte Vasconcelos is developing a tech solution within the scope of his Doctoral thesis. “My research aims to produce an economically viable solution packed with a set of sensors that can detect dangerous 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.
Mosquitoes inhabit various regions of the world, with more than 3,000 species already identified in the world. Some of these are transmission vectors of several diseases such as malaria, yellow fever, or dengue. According to the World Health Organization, 627,000 people died of malaria in 2020.
The first prototype
Initially, the researchers performed tests using microphones that captured the sound of flapping wings. This allows sensors to detect dangerous mosquitoes close. “As the frequency of the flapping of the wings varies between species, it is possible to recognize the pattern of the species found by the microphones,” explains Dinarte Vasconcelos. However, this approach allowed only the measurement within a short range. Morevover, the system was not prepared to handle background noise. With the inclusion of infrared optical sensors, it was possible to increase the system’s reach and make it resilient against ambient noise. However, the existence of multiple species of insects requires the use of artificial intelligence to achieve better results. “We will need a database to identify which of the detected insects are mosquitoes,” he adds.
Testing in Thailand
Under favorable conditions, a female mosquito can hatch between 100 and 200 eggs in 7 days. For this reason, the prototype must be able to distinguish males and females. “The laboratory tests we did in partnership with the Natural History Museum of Funchal reveal that the prototype correctly identified more than 90% of mosquitoes are concerning species and sex,” says Dinarte Vasconcelos. The researcher carried out further testing in Thailand, in partnership with Mahidol University. Here, the malaria-transmitting mosquitoes – Aedes and Anopheles are abundant. Dinarte and a local team ran experiments near the Rajanagarindra Tropical Disease International Centre (RTIC). The team placed light and dry ice traps to attract mosquitoes. These tests were important to calibrate sensors, identify problems and improve detection in a real life environment.
A precious tool to health authorities
Once finalized, the prototype will be able to transmit information to health authorities. It will use radio frequency to transmit information, since it is more energy efficient than WiFi, thus allowing a real-time mapping of mosquito presence. In this sense, the Interactive Technologies Institute, the University College London, and the Regional Directorate of Health of Madeira signed a research protocol to develop a monitoring system in Funchal.
In the future, researchers intend to continue the development of the technology so that it can distinguish between mosquitoes and other insects. Additionally to serving the original purpose, the same technology can be used to monitor other insect species of special interest such as bees and other pollinators, whose population has been dwelling over the past few years.