Saving lives through controlling disease-carrying mosquitoes is the mission of ROMEO, an innovative concept using a customized drone that recently won fourth place in this year’s Drones for Good Award competition. Beating over 1000 entries, ROMEO, or the Remotely Operated Mosquito Emission Operation, met the competition’s aims of improving people’s lives: it was designed to transport and release sterile male mosquitoes as part of an insect pest birth control method that stifles pest population growth and, in this case, could help prevent the spread of deadly diseases carried by mosquitoes.
ROMEO’s compact size and specially-developed components offers a new alternative to conventional release approaches used with this insect birth control method known as the sterile insect technique (SIT). SIT is an environmentally friendly form of insect pest control that involves mass sterilizing male insect pests using ionizing radiation. They are then systematically released, traditionally from the ground or from people-manned aerial vehicles, to mate with wild females, resulting in no offspring. Watch this video to find out more about how SIT works.
In contrast to conventional methods, ROMEO’s specialized GPS software and tailor-made release mechanisms allow it to be used remotely to blanket a village or town with sterile males or to carefully home in on a site for targeted release. With a substantial carrying capacity and a flight time of up to 30 minutes, the drone can cover about a square kilometre with about half a million sterile mosquitoes. This offers a quicker and cheaper option, and allows for better distribution, particularly in difficult to access terrains.
SIT has been successfully used worldwide for over 50 years for various agricultural insect pests, such as fruit flies, tsetse flies, screw worms and moths. Its deployment against disease-transmitting mosquitoes, such as the carrier of the Zika, Chikungunya and Dengue viruses, is ongoing validation with some pilots already successfully completed and others showing promising results. The introduction of ROMEO could add a new dimension to effectively keeping mosquitoes at bay, helping to save lives worldwide.
The concept behind this drone project was proposed by the IAEA, in partnership with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), and built in collaboration with Height Tech, a German drone manufacturer. It was one of two IAEA-supported projects submitted to the 2016 United Arab Emirates Drones for Good Award competition, which received over 1000 entries from more than 160 countries. The competition, organized by the United Arab Emirates, sets out to gather creative minds to transform civilian drones for use as practical, realizable solutions that will improve people’s lives. The winner of the international competition this year was the Loon Copter from Oakland University’s Embedded Systems Research Laboratory. This aerial-surface-underwater reconnaissance drone is designed for scientific research and other relevant land-water-air applications, like search and rescue. The winner received a $1 million prize.