Watch Out, Mosquitoes! AI Is Ready to Bite Back
Thu, April 22, 2021

Watch Out, Mosquitoes! AI Is Ready to Bite Back

Mosquitoes inflict itchy bites and spread malaria, dengue, or zika / Photo Credit: khlungcenter (via Shutterstock)


Mosquitoes inflict itchy bites and spread diseases such as malaria, dengue, or zika, which Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates said kills more people each day than sharks have managed to do in an entire century. This was reported by Anna Solana of business technology news channel ZDNet. Developing early detection systems to enable the deployment of preventive controls is critical in safeguarding people from mosquitoes and the diseases they carry.

The Institute of Agrifood Research and Technology (IRTA) in Catalonia, Spain has begun to use AI, sensors, and satellite communications to automate the processing of trapping mosquitoes and categorizing them according to species, age, sex, and their potential for causing infection. Setting up traps is not a new control technique. In fact, manual field trap inspections are done by trained researchers or technicians in many countries. However, such inspections are time-consuming and expensive. Further, classifying mosquitoes accurately by eye requires a lot of experience. Dr. Sandra Talavera, a researcher at the Animal Health Research Center IRTA-CreSA, told ZDNet that it was one of the reasons why IRTA, owned by the Catalonian government, decided to implement the Vectrack system, which is funded by the EU Horizon 2020 program.  

The first test phases are conducted by the Barcelona Public Health Agency (ASPB), which is in charge of monitoring and controlling mosquitoes in the city’s urban environment. The traps are similar to those already in use, but they are equipped with optoelectronic sensors to enable remote and automated counting and classification of the targeted mosquitoes based on the shape of their body and the frequency of flight, Talavera explained. Fellow researcher Dr. Carles Aranda stated that the mosquitoes are drawn to the traps since the devices "emit carbon dioxide as an entree and then suck the specimens inwards so that they do not escape".

The sensors also gather data on temperature and humidity relative to the GPS position of the trap. The sensors then turn “morphological, physiological, and flight kinetics of mosquitoes” into the insect’s digital fingerprint. The information obtained is transmitted to the cloud, analyzed by algorithms, and processed in geographic information systems provided by Avia-GIS Software, a Belgian company. The data is finally integrated with satellite information from the European Space Agency (ESA).