The Bug Swatter: Nathan Myhrvold
Independent wealth has set Nathan Myhrvold’s mind free since leaving his role as Microsoft’s chief technology officer in 1999. A true Renaissance man – he is a world-champion barbecue chef, a palaeontologist who has uncovered multiple T-Rex skeletons, a wildlife photographer and a hi-tech cookbook author – Myhrvold spends his days brainstorming innovations with his colleagues at venture capital firm Intellectual Ventures.
The firm makes money by licensing patented ideas and has more than 3,000 still waiting to be fully explored. “We take some of our best inventors and try to come up with ideas for solving problems in the world,” Myhrvold said at a recent Technology, Entertainment, Design (TED) conference. “And we try to solve them with dramatic, out-of-the-box ideas.” Ideas such as using the company’s supercomputer to tackle malaria. Myhrvold’s model covered every road and village in Madagascar, and included rainfall, humidity and temperature data to predict standing pools of water where mosquitoes breed. The model mapped the mosquitoes over a year, showing their movements, and the resulting peaks in malaria infections. His team then used high-speed camera footage to capture the mosquitoes’ wing beats, targeting the insect rather than the disease itself.Myhrvold describes how mosquitoes could be blasted out of the sky using cheap consumer electronics. “Your Blu-ray player has a very cheap blue laser in it; a scanner has a mirror galvanometer in it that can steer very accurately where a laser is aimed; and there’s signal processing in digital cameras,” he said. “What if we could put all that together to shoot them out of the sky with lasers?”Protection from malaria is only one role for this laser battery – Myhrvold says that by shining a non-lethal laser on a bug before zapping it, the technology could identify the insect before destruction. This would offer a potential alternative to pesticides, without killing beneficial insects such as bees.
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