Many of us are all too familiar with the bothersome buzz of a mosquito. This drone of sound is produced by the wings of a mosquito in flight, alerting us that they are nearby. For those in places where the malaria vectors do not reside, this buzz is merely an annoyance, but for many, it’s the sign of a deadly killer ready to attack.

Malaria Must Die produced a short video highlighting the annoyance of a mosquito’s buzz.

But what if this sound could help save lives? That’s the idea behind the HumBug Zooniverse Project, a collaboration between the University of Oxford and Kew Gardens. Through this work, researchers have found a way of alerting individuals that a mosquito is nearby by detecting its buzz.

A Mobile App

The Humbug mobile app works on a cheap mobile phone by analysing sounds in the environment and issuing a warning when a mosquito is detected. The team managed to convert recording of mosquitos into frequency features and trained an algorithm to learn the distinct sound created by mosquitoes in flight.

Based on current tests, the app can detect the presence of mosquitoes 10cm away from a device, this depends on the level of background noise.

The project is funded by a Google Impact Challenge award and the ORCHID project.

Variations in Sound

The next steps will be to identify the unique traits of the sounds produced by different mosquitoes. This way, individuals will be notified if that mosquito a few centimetres away is deadly or not.

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It’s important to emphasise that only around 70 of the 3500 mosquito species are responsible for transmitting malaria. The mobile app will be capable of learning the tell-tale audio frequencies produced by different species based on variations in sound. Such variations are likely due to the wing size and shape.

Get Involved

This goal is still a long way off, and before the team reach any kind of final product, they must first analyse hundreds of hours of recordings in the wild and in labs. Members of the public can help the research effort by analysing short audio clips for mosquito sounds at home. This can be done through the Humbug website.

This technology could prove beneficial to researchers studying mosquito populations and density. By deploying audio recorders and processing the data through a computer, researchers can quickly see the trends in where different types of mosquito reside. Unlike current surveying tools, this would be less time consuming and more cost-effective, without putting researchers at risk to malaria.

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