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February 12, 2010

Progress on Laser Systems for Destroying Mosquitos and Missiles

1. Intellectual Ventures Nathan Myhrvold, Microsoft’s former chief technology officer, has assembled commonly available technology — parts used in printers, digital cameras and projectors — to make rapid lasers to shoot down mosquitoes in mid-flight.

The laser mosquito zapping work was first covered here in early 2009

After hundreds of mosquitoes (which were kept in the hotel bathroom until showtime) were released into a glass tank, a laser tracked their movements and slowly shot them down, leaving their carcasses scattered on the bottom of the tank. While the demonstration was slowed down for public viewing, Mr. Myhrvold said that normally the lasers could shoot down anywhere between 50 to 100 mosquitoes per second.

Mr. Myhrvold said he thinks there is particular potential in the Blu-ray laser technology, because blue lasers are more powerful than red ones and there are a lot of them being made cheaply now.

He estimates that the devices could potentially cost as little $50, depending on the volume of demand. However, his company would not manufacture them. Rather, it built the technology mostly as a proof of concept. (Among other things, his company is also working on cooking technology.) Other companies would have to take the laser technologies to market, so the timeline for seeing the lasers in common use is uncertain.

The laser detection is so precise that it can specify the species, and even the gender, of the mosquito being targeted. “The women are bigger. They beat at a lower frequencies,” Mr. Myhrvold said. Since it is only the female mosquitoes who bite humans, for the sake of efficiency, his system would leave the males alone.





2. A 747 based laser finally has shot down a missile in a test firing

A short-range, Scud-like ballistic missile was launched from an at-sea mobile launch platform near the Point Mugu Naval Air Warfare Center, off of the central California coast. “Within seconds, the Airborne Laser Test Bed [ALTB] used onboard sensors to detect the boosting missile and used a low-energy laser to track the target. The ALTB then fired a second low-energy laser to measure and compensate for atmospheric disturbance. Finally, the ALTB fired its megawatt-class High Energy Laser, heating the boosting ballistic missile to critical structural failure. The entire engagement occurred within two minutes of the target missile launch, while its rocket motors were still thrusting,” according to a statement from the Missile Defense Agency.

Gates told Congress last year. “The reality is that you would need a laser something like 20 to 30 times more powerful than the chemical laser in the plane right now to be able to get any distance from the launch site to fire.”

So, right now the [jet] would have to orbit inside the borders of Iran in order to be able to try and use its laser to shoot down that missile in the boost phase. And if you were to operationalize this you would be looking at 10 to 20 747s, at a billion and a half dollars apiece, and $100 million a year to operate. And there’s nobody in uniform that I know who believes that this is a workable concept.





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