I just attended a really cool talk by somebody from Intellectual Ventures Lab. Among other topics more relevant to my work, such as computer security, how to hack phones, car keys and regular apartment locks – I was really impressed and worried at the same time when the speaker showed how easy it is! -, there was some slides and discussion about some really interesting inventions they created in their lab.

I would need an entire day worth of writing to describe the incredible facility/lab they have, equipped with any tool you can possibly imagine – it makes sense when you see the quote they have on their website: To invent, you need a good imagination & a pile of junk. – Thomas Edison -. But I wanted to talk about one of the most impressive things I have seen during the talk now that I have read a bit more about it.

Scientists in Intellectual Ventures Lab have designed a machine that tracks – by means of a very sophisticated and fast image processing algorithm – mosquitoes as they fly and zaps them dead using a laser, similar to the ones used to burn BlueRays. Using this equipment, they envision creating photonic fences to protect all kind of locations.

A completely novel invention, called a Photonic Fence, detects mosquitoes flying at a distance and shoots them down with lasers. Although this approach may sound high-tech (and indeed some of the inventors are veterans of the antiballistic missile program), the basic components needed for such a system largely exist already in inexpensive consumer electronics, such as laser printers, Blu-ray disc writers, camcorders, and video game consoles. The working prototype at Intellectual Ventures Lab was constructed almost entirely from parts purchased second-hand on eBay and similar websites.

The system would create a virtual fence made out of light— we call it a “Photonic Fence.” Light Emitting Diode (LED) lamps on each fence post would beam infrared light at adjacent fence posts up to 100 feet (30 meters) away; the light would then hit strips of retroreflective material (similar to that used on highway signs) and bounce straight back toward the illuminator. A camera on each fence post monitors the reflected light for shadows cast by a hapless insect flying through the vertical plane of light.

I found a presentation they did on TED where they show the machine working and they show videos of mosquitoes being zapped. The footage, captured with a super expensive camera that takes thousands of frames per second, is truly impressive. I am posting the video here:

Impressive work by a team of people that have created really interesting things. I strongly suggest that you check out their website! Or you can read about the project on the Wall Street Journal.

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