A University of South Florida associate professor is working on a drone project he hopes ends the spread of tropical diseases across the world, and the technology is working its magic in Hillsborough County.
Benjamin Jacob is currently in Uganda working with drones trying to eradicate a major source of malaria. He created the technology, which pairs a smartphone app with a drone and satellite images to find mosquitoes.
The point of the drones is to find mosquito breeding habitats that were previously unknown. It works by finding specific environments using their unique “fingerprint” using a color value that’s been assigned to that species or habitat. From there, the drone captures datasets to identify areas like mud or vegetation where mosquitoes might live.
Jacob’s drone was 100% accurate in finding mosquito habitats during testing. He said this can help pinpoint areas where potentially disease-carrying mosquitoes in Africa and here in the Tampa Bay area.
He claims this allows officials to avoid spraying entire fields with insecticide. Instead, they can just target the areas where the mosquitoes live. Not only does this avoid using the insecticide over a large area, but since it’s being targeted the risk mosquitoes can build up a tolerance also lessens.
Jacob believes his technology could also bring relief for taxpayers if local leaders use the drones. His drones cost thousands of dollars less than aerial fumigation processes that are currently in place. Local leaders have used helicopters and land surveys, but this would be a much more viable option in his opinion.
Thanks to a grant from the Joy McCann Foundation, Jacob’s drone mapping identified more than 9,000 mosquito habitats with diseases present in Hillsborough, Polk, and Manatee counties. He hopes to get the attention of the right people to expand the use of the drone.
“We’re hoping to get the governor’s attention so we can move forward and get a few more counties involved like Pasco, Polk, show them we can use drones and not helicopters,” Jacob said.