Bug-zapping laser will only kill bad insects

The Photonic Fence will help farmers target specific pests, if a Department of Agriculture trial goes well.

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Screenshot of Intellectual Ventures webpage
Screenshot of Intellectual Ventures webpage

There are good insects, and then there are bad bugs. And the folks at Seattle-based Intellectual Ventures Lab (IVL) have been working on a device that will only kill pests and leave the others unharmed. It's called the Photonic Fence, and has been in development as early as 2009, but according to a Wired report, it's recently been "installed on a US Department of Agriculture site in the state for its first real-world test." If all goes well, IVL plans to market the Fence to farmers who need to protect their crops from pests.

Using cameras and other optics, the Photonic Fence scans for pests within 100 metres, looking at each bug's "form, velocity, acceleration and wing-beat frequency." When a target has been recognized as being from the kill list, the Fence will shoot it with the laser, and the insect will be dead within 25 milliseconds. According to the company, the device can kill up to 20 insects per second, and can cover areas of up to 30 metres wide and 3 metres high -- creating the so-called Fence in its name.

It's not yet clear when the trial began nor when the results are expected, although the test was slated to start this summer. There's still a ways to go before the Photonic Fence becomes available to individual farmers (nor corporations), not to mention us regular folks who want a good bug zapper for our balconies or porches. Still, pending the test results, it shouldn't be too long before we can keep our plants and living areas safe from harmful pests.

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