Kew has won a £500,000 grant, plus technical support, in the 2014 Google Impact Challenge UK. This is a competition sponsored by Google and Nesta, which invited charities to pitch innovative ideas to make use of technology for social and environmental purposes. From an initial field of over 200 applicants, just ten charities were selected as finalists, each guaranteed to receive £200,000 and support from Google. Of these, three charities – Kew, Centrepoint and WeFarm – won the maximum grant, with a fourth, RNIB, being chosen by public vote.
Kew’s winning project sets out to transform how mapping of disease-bearing mosquitoes is carried out. We will be working jointly with teams from Oxford University to develop miniature sensors which can detect the unique wing-beat of a mosquito and identify the species from that acoustic signal. These will be embedded in wearable devices such as a simple wristband or cattle ear-tag, or downloadable in a smartphone app, allowing us to crowd-source real-time data on the presence of mosquitoes in the landscape. This acoustic data will be combined with daily recordings of temperature and humidity and detailed remote sensing and vegetation mapping to understand how different mosquito species interact with plants in their habitat.
With more than 60% of the world population routinely exposed to mosquitoes which transmit malaria, dengue fever and other deadly diseases, the potential benefits of the project are huge. Ultimately, we hope that the rich datasets created by the project will help to refine and adjust how mosquito control programmes are planned and delivered all over the world.