Solar-Powered Mosquito Trap

Published Nov-29-09

An ingenious solar-powered mosquito repellent and trap that uses human sweat.

Tom Kruer, United States

The Story:

Solar-Powered Mosquito Trap It is thanks to open innovation that millions of malaria carrying mosquitoes will be breathing their last. Human sweat, sunlight and paraffin wax are the main ingredients of a groundbreaking trap that lures mosquitoes to their deaths.

According to the World Health Organization a child dies of malaria every thirty seconds and there can be anywhere between 300 and 500 million new cases of the disease each year. It is caused by the parasite Plasmodium falciparum that’s transmitted to humans from the bite of an infected mosquito. One of the best ways of preventing the spread of malaria is bed nets treated with insecticides. However, these pose problems such as the potential of poisoning and their environmental risk. And so a challenge was created for an open innovation network of solvers to come up with a solar-powered device to prevent or limit the spread of malaria.

Open Innovation Winner

Eighteen proposals were submitted to InnoCentive’s website and the winner was Tom Kruer who started the project by carrying out extensive research with his son Nathan. They poured over the scientific literature to review what top scientists and institutions were saying about the behavior of malaria vector mosquitoes. It led them to draw two conclusions that helped to guide the design and the development stage. One - that insecticides are not the best way forward and two - that mosquitoes are attracted to human hosts by a combination of the temperature of human extremities at rest, moisture coming from the skin, and the combined scent of sweat and resident human micro flora.

New Kind of Mosquito Trap

The next stage was to combine these elements into a new kind of trap. His Eureka moment came when he realized that as only heat from the sun would be needed expensive photovoltaic cells and batteries were irrelevant.

This led him to think about phase change wax. He calculated that about a liter of passively heated wax would release heat for about 10 hours and this could be used to spread a water-based attractant.

After coming up with a cone-shaped design for the trap the next step was to figure out the best attractant. In developing countries a mixture of water and human sweat is used. The use of sweat has been proven to be an affective attractant by scientific research, and it’s free and readily available.

Kruer’s mosquito trap is heated by the sun during the day, and when night comes it’s brought into the house where it releases its stored heat at roughly the same temperature as the human body. Also in the cone is the human sweat attractant that has been collected from a wrist band. The device perfectly mimics the smell, temperature and moisture characteristics of a sleeping human body. The mosquitoes go crazy for it and swoop down to find the heating element. On realizing that there is no host the insects take off vertically, but the natural convection current that has been created draws them upwards and through the trap holes. Once inside the trap there is no escape.

Field Tests and Inspiration

Tom Kruer was awarded his prize in January 2009 and the device was subsequently field tested. It’s now being mass produced for under $10 each, making it affordable to poor communities. This wasn’t the first open innovation challenge that Kruer has solved. He thrives on the excitement of open innovation problem solving. Small wonder then that a quote from Albert Einstein hangs over his desk for daily inspiration. “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

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