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Mosquito Magnet
Jamais Cascio, 21 Nov 05

proproduct.jpgCompact, quiet and effective up to one and a quarter acres (around 5,000 square meters), the Mosquito Magnet is apparently one of the better devices out there for mosquito abatement. The system puts out simulated "breath" with a mosquito-attractive scent, then sucks them in and dehydrates them -- no insecticides are involved at all. The system has real worldchanging elements -- the manufacturer, American Biophysics, sees the Mosquito Magnets as having real benefits for preventing the spread of malaria, and the biggest system even has a solar panel to charge the battery.

Moreover, the devices are about to become parts of a smart wireless network:

Now AmBio, as the company is commonly called, is upping the ante with a "smart" mosquito net, or computerized defense system, to serve the corporate and public health sectors. By the first quarter of 2006, AmBio executives hope to have finalized sophisticated software to control a network of magnets--forming a kind of wide-scale fence--which will be able to communicate with a central network through wireless 802.11b technology.
That way, the system will be able to efficiently ward off bugs from golf courses and resorts, or even help mitigate cases of malaria in third world countries, according to [AmBio CEO Devin] Hosea."

But there's a catch:

"We got the idea from institutions that were jury-rigging our technology to computer networks and mesh networks, with PC panels, to see how many mosquitoes they'd caught or how much propane they had left..."

Ah, yes. Propane. The Mosquito Magnet uses propane to create the CO2 it pumps into the air as simulated "breath." This is part of why it works so well; mosquitos apparently use exhaled CO2 as a signal that food is nearby. That presents something of a problem for me -- why point to something that, despite its other positive aspects, puts more CO2 into the air as the core of its design? I initially declined to post this, but was convinced by my colleagues here that potential benefit of the system arguably outweighs the harm.

I would really like to see the propane used as the base material changed to some kind of biofuel, to at least get closer to carbon neutrality. Given that the systems use standard commercially-available propane tanks, I suppose that what I'm really hoping to see is a biofuel replacement for those. Do any of you know of any proposals or projects to do so?

The Mosquito Magnet is not a replacement for mosquito nets, but an adjunct. Nets protect limited spaces; the Magnets protect larger open spaces. Nets are extremely effective at blocking mosquitos; the Magnets kill the mosquitos, but have to attract them in first. Together, they'd make a potent combination.

(Via Make)

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Comments

I suppose it depends how much CO2 is "exhaled".

After all, we don't exhale all that much CO2 and mosquitos find us easily, so maybe this thing uses very little propane.

It would be better if it used something else as fuel, but then, I'd fight against a lot of other sources of CO2 and wasteful processes before attacking a little machine that can help protect some people from Malaria.


Posted by: Michael G. Richard on 21 Nov 05

To give a sense of how much is consumed, most of the units suggest that you'll need to change the propane tank once every three weeks of normal use.

Bear in mind that this will need to put out more CO2 than a person would exhale in order to cover a largish area.


Posted by: Jamais Cascio on 21 Nov 05

> I suppose it depends how much CO2 is "exhaled".

That was my question too; and how much compared to what a person (or a mosquito ;-) exhales.


Posted by: Gil Friend on 21 Nov 05

This is a terrifying problem within sustainable technology design: feature creep. The idea that some people, even influential designers, are convinced that all CO2 emissions are harmful and wrong, even ones strictly for simulating human CO2 emissions, is incredible to behold. That other ridiculous aspects, such as the need for built-in networking in a malaria-prevention device, do become part of the product, is what drives them out of the reach of the real world, and into the waiting arms of golf courses and lakeside resorts. Natural gas elements such as propane can be gotten from several biological sources, as you yourself have linked to here, and here, and as Alex Steffen has linked to here .

Propane just means 3 carbon alkane, and just because we get it from oil and gas reserves now doesn't mean we have to forever.


Posted by: Ben Hunt on 21 Nov 05

Ben, I appreciate the sentiment. I do want to see more designers develop the habit of hesitating before building something that puts more greenhouse gases into the air, not because we should never, ever do so, but because we should not do so without first considering what other choices we may have.

As to whether the addition of wireless networking of antimosquito devices constitutes "feature creep," it comes down to whether the the networking is used to reveal information about the world that would otherwise be opaque. Just used to alert to low propane levels? Feature creep. Used to determine direction and intensity of mosquito sources? Probably useful.


Posted by: Jamais Cascio on 21 Nov 05

While I understand the initial hesitation regarding the C02 this unit puts out, I really think the context of this device warrants further examination.

DDT is still widely used to combat malaria. It's a bloody horrible compound by any reckoning, and I don't know how much greenhouse gas is outputted in its production, or what toxic/non-toxic residues are associated with its production, but I'm going to go out on a limb and guess - a lot more than this unit uses at comparative scales.

Then there is the transportation and application of the DDT.

Then let's add in the effects malaria has on populations worldwide, which we are all familiar with.

My uncle works as a vector disease ecologist in Irian Jaya, principally focussed on malaria abatement, control and prevention. He would salivate at the possibilities offered by these units (and I'm sending him a link).

This system in contrast is chemical free, and propane is a logical choice for developing nations, and also helps to keep the price down. I somewhat agree with Ben's concern about feature creep, but I think there have been sufficient article at worldchanging alone pointing to the leapfrog use of new communication techniques to make me think that the wireless feature could actually be a major bonus.

So my question is, in the grand scheme of things is it more important that everything try and be greenhouse etc. free even if it reduces some utility and broad application, or is it more important that we think strategically about what it is critical to reduce or remove greenhouse gas emissions from? I think it's the latter. It's not small units that may help ameliorate a terrible disease that are going to cause greenhouse gas problems now or in the future, it's just about everything else we do. And yes, I do believe that cumulative impacts are one of our greatest challenges.


Posted by: imogen on 21 Nov 05

I've had very good luck with the garlic sprays. No CO2 emission at all. Of course it couldn't be networked to keep track of mosquitoes, either.


Posted by: Suzanne on 21 Nov 05

Garlic is great for those of us in countries where mossies aren't vectors for major infectious diseases; not so good in the Congo!


Posted by: imogen on 21 Nov 05

I work for Canada's largest propane seller- a "job" I took while going back to school. A few months ago was the first I heard about these units. At the time it seemed obscene that people would spend some CAD$500 for one of these, and replace a 20lb tank every 2-3 weeks for a bug-free backyard or golf course. And it still sounds obscene to me, although not quite as much as pool heaters. Bah, this job has made me a wee cynical.

There has got to be a more elegant way to deal with this issue. I thought malaria was mostly a "solved" problem in the sense that we know how to control it? Wasn't control of breeding grounds, pheromones and nets for those hours of the night when the mosquitos bite sufficient to stop transmission?

Introducing more expensive technology probably won't create the political will and education required to get people nets. The only thing new about this seems the data collection.

Finally- the suggestion that we look for carbon-neutral sources to fill these is interesting, especially if we could also use it here for barbeques and/or forklifts and pool heaters. A green propane replacement if you will (or just carbon-neutral propane). E-P? Anyone else know the chemistry for this?


Posted by: Daniel Haran on 21 Nov 05

Malaria and Filaria are devastating diseases and wide spread in Africa and Asia. I can speak for India and mossies are a serious problem. This clever gadget may be heaven sent. It will be for me when I visit Andhra Pradesh, home to a lot of happy mosquitoes sucking blood with impunity. I am glad James published this "news" despite the CO2 cost. I think it is a small price for the benefits of substantially reducing the mosquito populations.


Posted by: Subbarao Seethamsetty on 21 Nov 05

I'll bet dollars to donuts that this machine could be switched to methane by changing a metering jet, or gobar gas ditto.  Another possibility is CO2 from fermenting anything plus electric or stored solar heat.  Maybe there's an opening for stationary units which ferment a drum of grass clippings?

IIRC the mosquito traps require one other attractant (a quick Google search confirms that it's octanol).


Posted by: Engineer-Poet on 21 Nov 05

I went to this site:

http://www.mosquitocentral.com/

And they claim their Mega-Catch Ultra performs 30% better than the Mosquito Magnet Pro, at less than half the price, while also lasting 6 times longer on the same propane tank. I have no affiliation with these people and don't know if their claims are valid. Can anyone tell me if they know which mosquito-catching device is the best?


Posted by: manofsan on 22 Nov 05

I think the question to ask is not "how good is this compared to Star Trek" but "how good is this (in terms of cost, envoronmental impacts of construction and deployment, effectiveness, etc.) compared to whatever we're doing *now?*"

If it's an improvement in whole-system terms, then why not celebrate it, and encourage its implementation?

Regarding the CO2 emissions, there are several ways to deal with that:

1) It's not such a big deal--areas with large mosquito concentrations have lots of standing water, thus (AFAIK) significant concentrations of CO2-breathing plants, especially in places like the rain-forested areas of sub-Saharan Africa.

2) Perhaps the CO2 could be obtained from something else that's producing it anyway for a useful purpose, like a microturbine generating power for the settlement being protected. The microturbine(s) could be interposed between the settlement and the source(s) of standing water, and the exhaust could be directed via hoses if necessary to the mosquito traps.

3) Since it is global CO2 production that presents the global warming threat, and not any particular local emission, an aid agency providing these devices to third world countries could pair it with a tree-planting program in the same location or elsewhere, to reduce and/or entirely eliminate any net increase in CO2 emissions due to the devices.

4) A promotional partnership between a the company producing the mosquito traps and one or more car companies producing hybrid or alternative-fuel vehicles. "Buy a new [insert type of hybrid car here] and we will provide a mosquito trap that will save lives in [insert recipient village here]." The carbon savings from the hybrid car vs. a conventional car would probably more than account for the emissions of the mosquito trap. The car company could either "split the difference" of the trap's price between its profits and the selling price of the car, or absorb the cost altogether, knowing that it would gain increased sales (meaning increased profits) from the goodwill-advertizing this would produce. Likewise, the mosquito trap company could sell its traps at a lower price per unit due to the benefits of a guaranteed bulk order, and capitalize on "goodwill advertizing" itself.

All in all, this new device looks like a Good Thing to me.


Posted by: P.T. Galt on 22 Nov 05

Having worked on the development of a similar product a few years back, I'm wondering about the other things that were being used to attract insects; especially low-freq sound. The idea of a *balance* of attractors always seemed to make sense to me.


Posted by: csven on 22 Nov 05

Looking at the big picture, CO2 is the most deadly problem on the horizon for mankind, animal kind, and all kind. Hundreds of thousands are already dying because of warming and malaria and other insect borne diseases will spread further north because of warming.

We desperately need to find an alternative to any "solution" that emits CO2. In any event, are we really certain of its long term effectiveness?

For that matter, there are those who advocate the reintroduction of DDT. This is a very short sighted "solution" as well.


Posted by: tstreet on 22 Nov 05


I can make an observation - instead of liquid propane, one could make the same thing that runs off of a tank of liquid CO2. CO2 liquifies at around 800 PSI at room temperature - you could pressurize an existing waste stream somewhere, and put it in a stronger containment vessel and have the same type of widget that doesn't require that we use more fossil fuels.


Posted by: eric on 22 Nov 05

I think the real problem is actually where this unit is being deployed. Living in Southern Ontario, these things are everywhere, in many backyards in suburbia and in cottage country. The reality is that these CO2 producing machines are everywhere here, and no matter how often public health authorities try to warn us of "west nile", mosquitos are a comfort problem, not a public health concern. A propane tank once every three weeks for a million barbecuing people is a terrible thing.
The real application of a machine like this should be in malaria hotspots, but unfortunately many people in those areas do not have access to cheap propane canisters.

This invention is pretty useless to us.


Posted by: Adam on 22 Nov 05

Why not just put out food for a species that preys on mosquitoes? Or attract one some other way, i.e. by making a natural habitat for them to live in.
I think that a totally natural solution would work best, as there is no point of even considering carbon neutrality or anything like that.
Trying to subjugate nature with technology is the reason why there are huge pest populations in the first place.
"You can't solve a problem on the level at which it was created." - Albert Einstein


Posted by: Russell Wendt on 22 Nov 05

You can get cheap co2 canisters dang near anywhere after all thats what many fire exteinguishers use.

But propane canisters are very common items.

Id sggest commoning up with a way to convert bio fuels INTO propane.


Posted by: wintermane on 22 Nov 05

After sleeping on this, I remembered my first year enviro-sci teacher: "Deal with toxics first". DDT is toxic, not CO2. If the choice really is between DDT and CO2, the latter is more manageable.

We have come up with at least two alternatives, using already produced CO2 and bio or other fuels. Coming up with alternatives to DDT that will be acceptable to the powers that be will be far more difficult. I imagine that this product including monitoring must really add to its credibility for the public health types: they may want to fall back on DDT based on monitoring data.


Posted by: Daniel Haran on 22 Nov 05

Wintermane, you're the man! Since the malaria-infested part of Africa will become the world's biggest biofuels and biofuels feedstock producer anyhow, with millions of local energy farmers, one could easily create an offshoot for the local production of ("bio")methane or indeed any other gas from biomass that gives off CO2, to power such a device.
This would be green gasses. And Jamais' objection would be overruled. :-)


Posted by: Lorenzo on 22 Nov 05

A mere CO2 canister might not attract mosquitoes very well; they are drawn to warm CO2/octanol emitters.  You'd also need a source of heat to dehydrate the captured skeeters to death, or find an alternate way of killing them (feed them to fish?).


Posted by: Engineer-Poet on 22 Nov 05

The latest (December) issue of Scientific American has an article on malaria, and some comments on DDT. Info is also available on the SA blog:

http://blog.sciam.com/index.php?title=ddt_and_malaria&more=1&c=1&tb=1&pb=1

One thing they said was:
"Many malaria researchers think [limited indoor use of] DDT should be given another look. In addition to being toxic to mosquitoes, they note, it drives the insects off sprayed walls and out of doors before they bite, and it deters their entry in the first place."


Posted by: SteveShervais on 23 Nov 05

Without stepping too much into the DDT question, it's worth noting that one of the primary reasons why the use of DDT has dropped off is that mosquitos develop a resistance to it quite easily, and the chemical becomes useless. DDT is essentially useless in much of central Africa, for example, simply due to evolved resistance.


Posted by: Jamais Cascio on 23 Nov 05

I wouldnt be so happy about the idea of using biofuel for this now. If what ive been reading is true the tropical forests are doomed because of biofuel. sigh...


Posted by: wintermane on 24 Nov 05



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