MIAMI — The drone, a powerful but controversial weapon against terrorism, is about to take on a new and seemingly inexhaustible enemy: the black salt marsh mosquito.
Seeking a high-tech edge in the daily battle to beat back the swarms, the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District on Monday will begin testing a next-generation drone developed by a small Gainesville robotics company.
The drone, about half the size of ospreys commonly seen in the Keys, won’t be equipped to spray or blast bugs. It will be rigged with a thermal camera designed to survey difficult-to-access mangrove jungles that are breeding grounds for the mosquito, the most prolific biter in the island chain.
If the bird-size eye in the sky can accurately detect shallow pools where mosquitoes grow from tiny larval worms to buzzing bloodsuckers in just days, it could save mosquito-fighters time, effort and money, said Michael Doyle, the district’s executive director.
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“Our people on the ground have to walk an hour to a marsh and find out what’s there,’’ he said. “It’s hard to cover all those places at once. If something like this could allow them to map where the water is, we could move a lot more quickly.’’
Whether or not the drone proves an effective mosquito hunter, the test shows how unmanned aerial vehicles are quickly changing. Drones have revolutionized warfare and been adopted by law enforcement, but also are being used for an increasing number of commercial and research uses from tracking poachers in Africa to monitoring wildfires.