Help Track Mosquitoes With Your Smartphone

Video screen capture. YouTube / Stanford University

The rise of citizen scientist apps for smartphones has been a major boon for scientific research. Researchers can crowd source their projects and get data from a much broader geographical area and with greater numbers and the apps compile it all for them.

With your smartphone you can help identify bird songs, track invasive species and, now monitor the spread of disease-carrying mosquitoes. Researchers at Stanford University have created an app called Abuzz that they hope will allow them to create the most detailed global distribution map ever made for mosquitoes.

“We could enable the world’s largest network of mosquito surveillance – just purely using tools that almost everyone around the world now is carrying in their pocket,” said Manu Prakash, assistant professor of bioengineering.

Mosquito-borne illnesses are major health concern worldwide. Millions of people die each year from malaria, dengue fever, yellow fever, West Nile virus, chikungunya and Zika, all spread by mosquitoes. These diseases have a much worse impact in areas where medical resources aren't readily available.

The Abuzz app, researchers could create a detailed map of the mosquito species that are known for carrying these diseases, which could highlight hot zones for these species so targeted solutions could be put in place.

The app works by allowing a user to record the sound of one or more mosquitoes. When the sound file is uploaded, the researchers clean up the audio and run it through an algorithm that compares it to a library of mosquito sounds and identifies the most likely species based on its hum. Each mosquito species has a different frequency to its wingbeats, creating a distinct sound.

When the identification is made, the researchers send the user a notification of its match and then plot the species on the map based on the user's coordinates. The app can make a match with as little as 1/5th of a second of sound, but a full second or longer is best, so even if a mosquito only buzzes by you once, it would be enough for the app to work.

The research team has already completed field testing in Madagascar where local volunteers collected hours of sounds. Since people in the areas most affected by disease-carrying mosquitoes may not have access to smartphones, the algorithm can work with recordings made from almost any type of cell phone. The success of this program will rely on many people using the app and contributing.

You can watch a video about this project below.