The UK’s Royal Botanical Gardens, located in the Kew district of London and also known as Kew Gardens (KEW), is a renowned botanical and scientific research centre that has developed an innovative tool to help organizations and governments guard against malaria-carrying mosquitoes. The centre is a finalist in the Google Impact Challenges UK competition, wherein it is showcasing a “mini-acoustic sensor” which, if successful, provides a real-time alert to the presence of disease carrying mosquitoes.
KEW is seeking joint funding with Oxford University to produce the device. Essentially, it is a data recording and management toolkit, which will be used to map the location of mosquitoes that are carrying diseases, via its acoustic sensors. The impetus for the innovation is a response to the fact that current techniques for mapping disease-carrying mosquitoes are largely inefficient. Prior attempts at tracking have not been in real-time, and the mosquitoes are apt to change their breeding grounds, which results in the production of outdated and unreliable information.
The sensors in this device are so precise that they are able to pinpoint the specific species of mosquito present in the area by recognizing their unique wing beats. The device will use crowd-sourced data and remote sensing to create an image, or map, of how the specific species of disease-carrying mosquitoes interact with people, and where they predominantly reside. The sensor will be developed in the form of a wrist band or phone application.
While developing and marketing the product in these forms may exclude individuals living in the Global South from purchasing them to use for personal protection, the technology may prove beneficial for efforts at the institutional level to provide better data with which to control the spread of disease. The hope is that the development will give health agencies a better opportunity to strengthen their vector control programmes and help to slow the spread of diseases like malaria and dengue fever, among others.
While this development does not seem to access the people directly, innovations in personal mosquito protection continue to advance. Check out this link for an article on how citronella-infused newspapers are protecting people on the spot.
KEW’s innovation is one of 10 other projects that could be awarded up to £500,000. The Google Impact Challenges competition seeks to award funding to 10 charitable projects that use innovative technology to change the world. Contenders are showcasing projects in sectors such as entrepreneurship, micro-donations, gender-based violence and technological training. The event has occurred globally since 2013 but this installation is the first UK-specific challenge. Four finalists will be awarded the £500,000 with the remaining six finalists being awarded £200,000. The panel of judges is headed by Richard Branson (of Virgin Group) and Sir Tim Berners-Lee (creator of the Internet). Winners are chosen by the public.
For more information about more projects and conservation efforts that KEW is involved with, visit their website. To learn more about the Google Impact Challenge competition and the other innovations vying for the prize, click here. For more articles about the fight against malaria, click here.