Drones Against Tsetse is a project using unmanned aerial vehicles to control the numbers of flies that carry diseases such as sleeping sickness.
We have seen bug-trapping drones used to monitor the spread of infectious diseases, and energy efficient street lights doubling as mosquito traps, and now an initiative in Ethiopia is looking to use drones to control the population of disease-spreading tsetse flies.
Embention is pioneering the Drones Against Tsetse project, along with the International Atomic Energy Agency. The project will use drones to release sterile male flies near indigenous populations, which then mate with females; this produces sterile offspring to regulate the number of flies. The plan is to control the population of the flies which carry the disease African trypanosomiasis — also known as sleeping sickness — which still has several thousand cases in humans each year, and nagana, an animal disease that can affect millions of cattle in sub-saharan Africa.
100 sterile tsetse flies need to be released each week per square kilometer for effective regulation, and the project will use fixed wing drones to release around 5,000 flies on each flight. The flies are released in biodegradable containers, which are chilled to reduce the activity of the sterile male flies during transport. The plan is currently relying on standard planes to perform the task, but it could be made far quicker and more efficient using drones.
The Drones Against Tsetse project was a semi finalist in the ‘Drones for Good’ awards in 2016. How else could UAVs help reduce numbers of disease-bearing pests?