(upbeat music) - Look like you're trying to escape.
They smell my blood.
(digital shooting) (gentle music) I'm taunting them.
(laughs) Nice little graveyard you've got here.
- [Arty] Thank you.
- [Katie] So where are we and what goes one here?
- We're inside Intellectual Ventures Laboratory.
This is a play space for scientists and engineers that care about problems in the developing world.
- So what in particular are you working on?
- We're working on the Malaria part.
Malaria is spread by these nasty little critters called mosquitoes.
- Oh, I've heard of them.
- Yes, they are annoying and they are on all five continents and they cause all kinds of problems.
Malaria right now is killing something on the order of half a million people a year.
- So how is Malaria being fought right now with the current technology that we have?
- So the current technology is pretty low tech.
- Fly swatters?
- Fly swatters, bed nets are distributed.
Bed nets are pretty cheap.
They're a physical barrier but they're also coated with insecticide.
The trouble is that we're running into insecticide resistance, which means the chemicals that have been working on these bugs up until now are now stopping to work.
And so we're poised for a huge Malaria resurgence.
We will take a look inside the insectary where we keep our mosquitoes.
They're best kept at 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
- [Katie] Me too.
(gentle music) - [Arty] The idea is let's see if we can find a completely different way of fighting mosquitoes.
How 'bout lasers?
(digital shooting) - [Katie] Lasers?
- Lasers are always a fun answer to most things.
There they are.
Alive but not for long.
It's basically as the name describes, Photonic fence is a fence.
So it forms a two dimensional barrier and it looks for small flying things.
And so when a small flying thing comes across the fence line it says oh, interesting, there's a small flying thing, let me analyze it.
And once it gets enough information about the bug itself, it says okay, bad flying thing, shoot it with a laser.
- [Katie] You're not gonna have a toddler get zapped by a laser.
- [Arty] Exactly.
- [Katie] Unless it was a small flying toddler.
(digital shooting) - Small flying toddlers might be at risk if they're flapping their wings at the same frequency as mosquitoes.
- That's a small population.
- Yeah, indeed.
In order to be able to kill a bug, we first need to see it.
From the very beginning the objective of the project was how do we make sure that it's safe for bees and other pollinators, right?
The way we do that is by analyzing their flight pattern, the size of the bug, the flight speed, acceleration, other characteristics about these bugs.
(mosquito buzzing) (shooting) Other than helping with human disease we can help with agriculture, saving crops.
Florida right now is experiencing a big issue with their citrus industry.
Their citrus industry is under attack by this little tiny bug called the Asian Citrus Psyllid.
Pesticides are chemicals that we end up one way or another ingesting (laughs) and so they are bad for the environment and they are bad at the end for us.
When pesticides aren't doing their job it may be that Photonic fence could be just the right addition to the mix of tools.
There have been some studies that looked at the impact of what happens when all the mosquitoes go away and the answer is nothing.
Nobody really cares.
- PETA hasn't come knocking on your door?
- PETA has not, nobody cares.
Paul loves the bit where we name all of our mosquitoes Will.
- Do you have a Will in your life who you just don't like that much?
(Arty laughs) - No, I just love saying fire at will.
- [Katie] Oh, okay.
(digital music) - [Announcer] This program is made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.