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Small Biz Award Funds A.I. Mosquito Monitoring System

Anopheles mosquito

Female Anopheles albimanus mosquito, responsible for spreading malaria (James Gathany,

22 Aug. 2023. A company creating a digital process to monitor farm insect pests is receiving funds to expand its technology for tracking and counting mosquitoes as a general public health threat. National Science Foundation is awarding FarmSense Inc. in Riverside, California $275,000 for a working system that accurately and inexpensively counts and classifies mosquitoes in a specified area.

FarmSense is commercializing research by the company’s scientific founder Eamonn Keogh, a computer science professor at University of California in Riverside, who studies analytics of time-series statistical data. Among the practical applications of Keogh’s research, is analysis of sensor data for identifying and quantifying insects in a region. Most current methods for quantifying insect populations, says the company, use mechanical traps similar to flypaper that require manual collection and counting.

FarmSense is a seven year-old company that offers electronic insect monitoring systems for farms that collect data from electronic monitoring stations that lure insects in a growers fields. Those stations, called FlightSensors, use LED lights and optical sensors to identify flying insects from their wing beating patterns, with the insect data and location coordinates of the station sent via Wi-Fi or cell networks and a server to the cloud for analysis with machine-learning algorithms. Growers using the FarmSense service receive real-time reports of insect pest activity in their fields.

The NSF grant supports further development of the FarmSense technology to identify and track numbers of mosquitoes in a specified area for public health surveillance. Mosquitoes are known to spread viral and parasitic diseases such as West Nile, Zika, and malaria, but measures to control mosquitoes by public health authorities first need accurate data on numbers and precise species at various locations in their districts. Better identification and counts can also help assess control measures against mosquitoes.

Stations activated by the presence of insects

In addition, the award calls for more autonomous mosquito trap stations that work like FlightSensors to lure insects into the stations for identification and counting. NSF calls for upgraded data-collection stations activated by the presence of insects rather than the current method of continuous operation. The new stations are expected to reduce use of carbon dioxide for luring mosquitoes to the stations, extend the batteries powering the stations, and reduce staffing needed for maintenance.

“I’m confident,” says FarmSense co-founder and CEO Leslie Hickle in a company statement, “that the capabilities of our technology and FlightSensor device will provide the necessary data to effectively serve both the commercial agriculture industry as well as provide important public health information. This is one of those rare opportunities where technology benefits both agriculture as well as public health, generally separate markets, to enhance precise measures for insect suppression.”

NSF is making the award under its Small Business Innovation Research or SBIR program, which the agency says sets aside more than $200 million a year for some 400 U.S. start-ups. SBIR grants are usually made in two phases, with the first part to demonstrate technical and commercial feasibility, and the second part to advance and scale-up the technology for commercial markets. The new FarmSense grant is a phase 1 award.

FarmSense is no stranger to the SBIR program at NSF. In 2021, the agency awarded the company an $858,541 SBIR award for developing more accurate and autonomous insect trap and counting stations, as well as supporting algorithms.

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