Tech Tackles Bug With Laser

Chips inside, weapons outside

By Scott Budman
|  Tuesday, Sep 21, 2010  |  Updated 2:51 PM PDT
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YouTube Made Them Famous

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A cloud of mosquitoes swarms over a river. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

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It's something out of 'Star Wars,' but instead of pulling in millions of box office dollars, it wants to save millions of lives.
 
Just outside of Seattle, a group of inventors at a company called Intellectual Ventures works in a laboratory.  At first glance, their company could pass for a biotech firm or maybe a pharmaceutical lab. But when you see what they call the Photonic Fence, you get an idea that this team is aiming for uncharted territory. And it's aiming with laser beams.

The Photonic Fence wants to cure developing nations of malaria by shooting its beams at malaria-carrying mosquitoes. IV's software can identify which mosquitoes carry the disease and the laser shoots off the disease-spreading bugs' wings in mid-flight.

Each year, 250 million people become inflicted with the disease. It's crippling parts of Africa. Armed with a Graphics Processing Unit (or GPU) made by Silicon Valley-based Nvidia, The Photonic Fence is still something of a prototype, but it works -- and its videos on YouTube will leave your jaw on the floor.
 
Intellectual Ventures is one of many companies stepping up to the plate to talk about why Nvidia's GPU is helping them to do what they do.  A whole convention of companies kicks off the GPU Conference Tuesday, all showing their wares at the San Jose Convention Center.  Some will show how processing power is helping in the hospital (the 3D ultrasound is something you've probably never seen before), others will show how their machines can enhance video you've just taken with your cell phone.
 
Nvidia has long toiled in the shadows of chip giant Intel.  It's trying to tell the story of how its GPU can help companies who previously relied on just a CPU (Central Processing Unit) sold by Intel.  With a GPU, they say, you can work even faster.  That's good news if you like to see your videogames jump out at you. Or, if you're using technology to take a new, space-age approach to fighting a deadly disease.

Scott can be found on Twitter: @scottbudman

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