Mosquitos kill more people than any other creature in the world, and there's no shortage of potential tech solutions. One such solution comes from Bzigo, which markets a device that finds mosquitos in your home, points at them with a laser and can notify you on your phone when a mozzy is buzzing about.
Walking the halls at CES, I often find the odd company where I have to push my cynicism down deep. It turns out that "walking" those halls virtually -- after TechCrunch announced that we are not attending in person -- doesn't shield your friendly correspondent from the odd moment of "wait, what?" in the context of a trade show. In this case, the magic of pointing at a mosquito with a laser pointer is a super neat tech challenge, and I can absolutely see how this could be the first step along a path toward productizing an autonomous mosquito eliminator.
The device itself consists of a light source (infrared LED), a hi-res wide camera and enough electronic brains crammed into the little package to do the rest. The AI built into the device can, according to the company, tell the difference between man's worst friend and a speck of dust, by analyzing the movement patterns of the would-be pest.
I could let all of this excitement slide in the (virtual) hustle-bustle of a CES show floor, but there are two issues.
The first issue is that -- unlike other products we saw at CES -- the device doesn't actually do anything to eliminate the insects, it merely sends a notification to your phone that it's time to dust off your nerf gun (or whatever your favorite mosquito-dispensing method might be), and points at the little flying good-for-nothing with a little red laser pointer. The company assured me that it's a Class 1 "absolutely safe" laser. I can see why the company chose to do that -- I can't imagine the legal and health risks involved with a laser that's powerful enough to actually zap the skeeters to whence they came. But that also introduces a fundamental question about this product.
"Locating the mosquito is the real challenge; killing the mosquito is the easy part," says Benjamin Resnick, product manager at Bzigo, as he refers to the company's demonstration video. "Once Bzigo uses its laser pointer to show you where it lands, you can easily kill the mosquito yourself."
I have to admit, as someone who grew up in a country where the mosquitos are the size of small propeller planes, I can't say that I've ever had that particular challenge.
The second -- and much more troubling -- issue with the product is that the company is planning to ship what they have so far as a consumer-facing product. Bzigo claims that thousands of customers have reserved orders for the $199 device, with a product launch and delivery to pre-order customers coming up "later this year".
My most heart-felt kudos to any marketing team at any company that can sell thousands of $199 mosquito-marking laser pointers, but in the grand scheme of things, it is essentially a useless product. Mosquitos are crepuscular (i.e. they feed at dawn and dusk) -- when people are least likely to be awake to hunt for mosquitos. And there's already a spectacularly efficient solution out there: Long-lasting, insecticidal bed nets (LLINs) are a simple, cost-effective solution to protect families from malaria while they sleep. They cost $10, fully delivered, and create a physical barrier against malaria-carrying mosquitoes, and the insecticide woven into the nets kills the mosquitoes before they can transmit the disease from one person to the next.
Don't get me wrong, I'm as big a nerd as the next guy, and I love a good science experiment or creative prototype. My question: Does the economic and environmental impact of shipping thousands of fancy laser pointers around the world -- which will invariably all find their way to landfills in the next 10 years, without having killed a single mosquito or saved a single life -- really outweigh the benefits?
I look forward to a version of this product that has some sort of mosquito-murdering tech on it. Until that happens, I hope that the founders re-think their plan of shipping this prototype as a consumer product. There are so many real problems out there worth solving; putting on a late-night silent rave laser light show for a couple of mosquitos ain't it.