The sterile mosquitoes are usually released from backpacks carried by ground workers. But bad roads and poor weather can make it difficult to deliver the bugs to remote areas — and that’s where air delivery by drone looks like a better option.
Patrick Meier, WeRobotics’ executive director, says the idea is not to replace ground-based releases but to complement them: “It’s about combining both methods, ground-based and aerial release, in order to have a maximum impact,” he says.
If field trials of a WeRobotics prototype go well next year, drones could eventually be used alongside ground teams in parts of the world where the IAEA works with governments to control mosquitoes.
The prototype drone is designed to distribute about 100,000 sterile A. aegypti mosquitoes over each square kilometer of terrain. The field trials will use arrays of mosquito traps throughout the target areas to check that the sterile bugs stay healthy during and after their drone flight.
Meier says most of the development effort has gone into designing a refrigerated flight container where the mosquitoes are held before their release.
“We need to keep them in what the IAEA calls a sleep-like state, because otherwise if you put 100,000 mosquitoes in such a small box, and if you don’t tranquilize them with chilled temperatures, then they will kill each other.”
A rotating platform below the refrigerated container slowly drops a measured number of sleepy mosquitoes into a holding chamber, where they wake up before flying into the wild.