The mission at Cal State University East Bay: Create a drone to kill Zika-carrying mosquitoes. By doing this, students hope to help protect the more than two billion people around world now considered "at risk."
At the university’s inaugural hack day over the weekend, engineering and biology students came together to build prototypes they hope one day will travel on the ground and through the air to fight the Zika virus.
“The controls are a little difficult. We had some mishaps flying into the tent. But once people got them to hover it was pretty amazing,” said Anthony Salvato.
The biology and biochemistry double major says he was excited to have the opportunity to work with students from other departments.
“[Drones] tend to be confined to the engineering realm, like to carry items from one location to another. But applying it to the real world? That’s really a killer app,” James Tandon said. He and two other CSU professors, Nazzy Pakpour and Reza Akhavian, devised the event.
As mosquito season looms, the race to curb the virus has begun. In Brazil, a company has created a billboard that attracts mosquitoes with the smell of human sweat and carbon dioxide, and then traps and suffocates them.
In Hayward, students are designing different types of drones to spray insecticides, and survey and find mosquito breeding grounds.
“If we can fly over areas and find abandoned pools which can be huge mosquito breeding grounds – a drone can do that a lot more efficiently than a person peeking over a fence,” assistant biology professor Nazzy Pakpour said.
Some students had the idea to design a drone to deploy Trojan horses, and drop sterile male mosquitoes into wetlands to mate with females.
“And because the females live long enough to maybe breed once or twice, they don’t produce any offspring,” Salvato said.
However, there’s one thing they can’t do quite yet.
“The technology is still pretty far away from walking outside your door and seeing drones flying around zapping mosquitoes,” Pakpour said, explaining it could take up to a decade to bring the technology to the mainstream market, mainly due to drone regulations.