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Artificial Intelligence Used to Fight Against Mosquitoes

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Mosquitos cause serious problems throughout the globe, spreading diseases such as malaria, dengue, and zika. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), they are responsible for more than 1 million deaths every year. Now, artificial intelligence (AI) is being used as a way to fight back. This comes at a time when the effects of mosquitoes continues to worsen, especially due to the consequences of climate change.

Back in the summer of 2018, Europe faced a growing threat of the West Nile virus infection. The increased threat was due to the rise of temperatures and wet weather, conditions that are preferred by the insect. 

The Institute of Agrifood Research and Technology (IRTA) in Catalonia, Spain is now using artificial intelligence (AI), sensors, and satellite communication in order to automate the process of trapping mosquitoes. The technology also classifies them according to species, sex, age, and if they can cause infection. 

IRTA is owned by the government of Catalonia, and they have developed the EU-funded VECTRACK project. Remote sensing and spatial modeling techniques will be adopted, and these will create special maps to help with risk surveillance and assessments. 

The project will rely on the Earth Observation Satellite Sentinel service. It will also use ground nodes with optoelectronic sensors in order to remotely count and classify the mosquitos. It is set to be the first transnational and automated vector surveillance system. 

VECTRACK was developed by Irideon, a Spanish-German company based in Spain. The company sells sensor-based products to different sectors. 

Trapping has been used by countries for a long time in order to control mosquitoes, and manual trap inspections are done by researchers or technicians. These inspections take a lot of time and resources, especially when it comes to classifying mosquitoes accurately by eye. 

The test phases with the special traps are being done by the Barcelona Public Health Agency (ASPB). They are responsible for controlling and monitoring mosquitoes in the city. 

What makes the traps different from those already in use is the addition of optoelectronic sensors. This enables remote and automated counting and classification of targeted mosquitoes. 

According to researcher Dr. Carles Aranda, mosquitoes are attracted to the traps. The traps “emit carbon dioxide as an entree and then suck the specimens inwards so that they do not escape.”

The sensors collect data for various different parameters including temperature and humidity related to the GPS location of the trap. A digital fingerprint of the mosquitoes is then created with the morphological, physiological, and flight kinetics of the insect. 

The VECTRACK sensors are able to be installed throughout most of the globe. They are compatible with many different communication protocols such as 2G, 3G, 4G, Wi-Fi, LPWAN technologies NB-IoT and LoRA, and satellite IoT. 

After the sensors collect the data, it is sent to the cloud to be analyzed by algorithms. It is then processed in geographic information systems that are provided by Avia-GIS Software, a Belgian company. The European Space Agency (ESA) provides satellite information which the data is integrated into. 

The real-time risk maps that are developed by the researchers through the process can be provided to regional, national, and international public-health bodies like the European Center for Disease Control. 

The new technology can be extremely helpful in preventing disease and controlling epidemics. 

The Protocol of the Surveillance and Control of mosquito-borne diseases began in 2014. 507 cases of dengue have been detected in Catalonia, highlighting the importance of this technology.

 

Alex McFarland is a historian and journalist covering the newest developments in artificial intelligence.