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Friday 31 October  
Phonetic fence
Ikenna Azuike's picture
Hilversum, Netherlands
Hilversum, Netherlands

Photonic fence against malaria 'will never work'

Published on : 20 February 2010 - 8:30am | By Ikenna Azuike (Intellectual Ventures Lab)
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"It's a ridiculous invention that will never ever, ever work". That's how renowned Dutch mosquito and malaria expert Dr Bart Knols has assessed a US invention that was being widely praised as a way to help prevent the spread of malaria.

The 'Photonic Fence' invention is the brainchild of ex-Microsoft executive, Nathan Myhrvold. The system tracks insects in the sky, identifies their species and kills them individually with a blast of energy from a laser. By focussing on mosquitos, the company claims that the technology could be an important tool in fighting malaria.

About Malaria


About 3.3 billion people - half of the world's population - are at risk of malaria. Every year, around 250 million people become infected and almost one million die of the disease. People living in the poorest countries are the most vulnerable.

Malaria is a particularly serious problem in Africa, where one in every five (20%) childhood deaths is due to the effects of the disease. The average child in Africa can suffer up to 5.4 episodes of malaria fever each year. And every 30 seconds a child dies of malaria. (WHO)

Unicef's map on Malaria transmission in the world.

Star Wars
Mr Myhrvold's company, Intellectual Ventures, presented the laser system at the TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) Conference recently. He admits that the Star-Wars-inspired technology is one of his company's higher risk and less practical inventions. However, he sees no reason why it could not work in Africa.

Dr Knols, on the other hand, says high costs of the equipment necessary to run the system and a lack of stable energy supplies, make the Photonic Fence a totally impractical and inefficient use of resources.

Lab status
Dr Knols also points out that, far from being a new invention, the Photonic Fence concept was unveiled nearly one year ago and has only been shown to work in a lab setting.

In his most damning criticism of Intellectual Ventures, Dr Knols says that the company is acting immorally and unethically by using the statistic about a child dying from malaria every 43 seconds in their marketing.

Photonic future
Whether the Photonic Fence invention makes it beyond glossy podium presentations and scientific journals and actually into rural areas of Africa remains to be seen. But one thing is for sure, Dr Bart Knols' assessment is a sobering moment for the Intellectual Ventures.

Perhaps this alternative video by the Groen Brothers is a more accurate assessment of the future of the Photonic Fence.



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