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Innovation Lab: Mosquito Lasers, AI Portraits and Crystal Powered Roads

Tim Maytom

At Mobile Marketing, we’re proud to help tech companies showcase their cutting-edge solutions, whether it’s on our website, in our magazine or at our Mobile Marketing Summits. Giving a platform to companies that are breaking new ground in their market brings audiences one step closer to the ideas and developments that will shape tomorrow.

In that spirit, our Innovation Lab feature takes a step beyond the world of apps, ads and handsets with slightly bigger screens, in order to share some of the tech world’s newest ideas. They might be interesting, disruptive or just outright strange, but these are the stories that have caught our eye over the past week.

Next Level Bug Zapper Shoots Mosquitos Out of the Air with Lasers

Mosquitos are still a huge health hazard in many parts of the world, and even where they don’t tend to carry deadly diseases, they’re still an annoyance. However, most measures designed to kill off mosquitos are fairly indiscriminate in their fight against the bugs, killing off harmless or even useful insects too that are a valuable part of the ecosystem.

Scientists at Intellectual Ventures Lab in Seattle have a new alternative: a ‘photonic fence’ that can specifically target mosquitos by identifying their shape, speed and wing-beat frequency, then shoot them out of the air with a laser. The device can even distinguish between female mosquitos, which do bite humans, and males, which don’t.

The device can scan for insects an area 30 metres wide and 3 metres high at any one time, killing up to 20 insects per second with UV laser pulses that eliminate the target within 25 milliseconds. Development began on the device in 2007, and its currently being tested in indoor environments in Florida, with hopes of then transferring it to outside with a wall-mounted model.

The main focus of the lab’s work is now on curbing the spread of malaria by disrupting the transmission cycle of the disease at its source. If the tests prove successful, the lab is hoping to produce solar powered versions of the Photonic Fence which can be used in areas where malaria is widespread to finally help eliminate the deadly epidemic.

Neural Network Creates Gallery of Disturbing Faces
Machine learning has been progressing in leaps and bounds over the past few years, as more investment is sunk into the promise of AI. One of the latest applications the technology has seen is the creation of a neural network designed to generate portraits of humans, based on thousands of other images.

The attempts, created by Google researcher Mike Tyka (although not as an official Google project), us a neural network technique called ‘generative adversarial networks’ (GANs), which effectively pit two different neural networks against each other. The ‘generator’ tries to create increasingly-convincing images based on inputs it has been ‘trained’ on, and the ‘critic’ tries to learn to distinguish real portraits from the AI-created versions, pushing the ‘generator’ to improve.

“I’m battling mode collapse and poor controllability of the results and bunch of trickery is necessary to reduce the amount of artifacts,” said Tyka in a blog post about the work. “Since I’m trying to do this with art in mind, I don’t mind if the results are not necessarily realistic but fine texture is important no matter what, even if it’s surreal but high-res texture.”

In order to generate higher resolution images, Tyka has combined multiple GANs, and has managed to upgrade the outputs from 256x256 images to as high as 4k x 4k. The image is first created at a lower resolution, then upgraded by a second GAN, with the quality strongly dependent on the realism of the first output. While not all of Tyka’s images have proved successful, his best results certainly showcase just how far AI and machine learning has progressed.

Multi-stage Plaster Can Seal Wounds Without Stitches and Reduce Scarring

Butterfly closures are specialised plasters that are used for larger open wounds that need a stronger hold than a regular bandage, and instead pull the skin either side of the wound together and hold them in place, providing a tight grip and reducing scarring to boot.

ClozeX is a new design of butterfly closure that focuses on ease of application, and its already been used in over 10,000 surgeries in 50 hospitals, on everything from appendectomies and hernias to paediatric heart surgery. It uses a system of three different-coloured layers to help guide users in applying it.

Michael Lebner, founder of ClozeX Medical, came up with the design after his wife and daughter suffered minor injuries that had to be sutured, and left them with scarring. Convinced there was a better alternative, Lebner spent over a decade developing ClozeX to provide a cleaner, easier way of closing a wound.

Los Angeles Invests $2m in Embedding Electricity-generating Crystals in Roads
The City of Angels is well known for its high levels of traffic, but authorities in the area are trying to turn that into a positive by investing in technology that could capture the vibrations of vehicles as they pass over roads and convert it into electricity.

The California Energy Commission has invested £2m (£1.5m) in two pilot studies of the technology as part of wider efforts to promote clean air and renewable energy in the state. The projects will take advantage of piezoelectricity, a technology most commonly used in electric cigarette and barbeque lighters, to capture energy from traffic by generating an electrical charge as they are compressed by cars passing over them.

Scientists working on the pilot schemes estimate that if they fit a 10-mile stretch of highway with the crystals, they can generate enough electricity to power the city of Burbank, which has a population of over 100,000. The technology has already been deployed in Japanese railway stations, Brazilian football pitches and London pavements.

US Army Tests Helicopter-mounted Laser Weapons

In news that is bound to delight fans of GI Joe, the US military is continuing its experiments with vehicle mounted lasers, this time testing a high energy laser fired from an attack helicopter. The laser isn’t actually designed to damage a target itself – instead it’s used to guide a UAV to a specific location with incredible precision.

Over the past few years, the US Army has significantly advanced its capabilities at using lasers from ground-based vehicles to guide drone strikes, but it’s considerably harder to fire accurately from a helicopter, due to their constantly shifting position and the vibrations caused by the engine and rotors.

However, in this latest test with defence contractor Raytheon, the US Army and US Special Operations Command were able to acquire and hit a target almost a mile away with a high energy laser mounted on an Apache AH-64 attack helicopter, thanks to a new fully integrated system that could compensate for the various factors at play. The data from the test will be used to further improve the system, and could eventually result in much more accurate and safe use of UAVs on battlefields.

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