Laser beam uses graphics chip to identify and zap mosquitoes

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Graphics have proven to be very useful in powering video games where you can zap huge numbers of bad guys in a minute. But now they may prove useful in powering lasers that can zap live mosquitoes out of the sky — all in the name of eliminating malaria.

Intellectual Ventures, the research company founded by Nathan Mhyrvold, created a “laser fence” to protect homes from malaria-bearing mosquitoes. It’s a great example of taking technologies that were invented for one purpose and adapting them for another.

The laser fence taps an Nvidia graphics chip to process the data coming in from a camera to identify a mosquito in real-time and then activate the laser to zap it.

“You have to recognize that it’s a mosquito, versus all of the other bugs that might be flying around, recognize that it’s a female mosquito, and then shoot it down. That recognition of trying to find that mosquito while it’s flying around is done on the GPU,” said Dan Vivoli, senior vice president of marketing at Nvidia in Santa Clara, Calif., in an interview with KGO-TV.

Malaria still kills a million people a year, mostly in Africa, where pesticides and bed nets are not extremely effective. The Intellectual Ventures researchers say they think that a mosquito zapper can be built for about $50. Incidentally, Intellectual Ventures has been blasted for being a “patent troll” because it is suing some tech companies. This is an example of how the company invents interesting technologies as well. The company would likely find a partner to mass-produce a laser fence.

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