Microsoft's Project Premonition research wants to prevent outbreaks by capturing mosquitoes

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Image Credit: Microsoft Research

Thanks to a massive audible collection and a long route to work, I immerse myself in the world of science fiction every day. With authors such as Microsoft’s own, Mark Russinovich to Daniel Saurez, my daily commute consists of killer AI, drones, autonomous vehicles, world threatening malware, and far-reaching concepts built upon the knowledge of current technology trends. For better or for worse, these fictitious worlds are no longer just the thoughts of creative writers. Thanks in part to massive R&D sectors, companies like Google, IBM and Microsoft are helping to bring the imaginary to life.

Meet Project Premonition. The ominously titled Project Premonition is every bit as futuristic and cool as it sounds. Project Premonition relies on mosquitos, to seek out pathogens in animals before those pathogens can harm or make humans sick. Specifically, the project “uses drones and new robotic mosquitos traps to capture many more mosquitoes from the environment than previously possible and then analyzes their body contents for pathogens,” according to the Microsoft Research team behind Project Premonition. The project uses autonomous methods such as drone-enabled mosquito traps to collect the mosquitos. Once assembled researchers can conduct cloud-based next generation gene sequencing analysis of pathogens detected within mosquitos, to determine if there are early signs of an infectious diseases.

Image Credit: Microsoft Research

A brief overview of infectious diseases shows that Emerging Infectious Diseases (EIDs) have increases in the last two decades. Unfortunately, EIDs can occur from both previously unrecognized pathogens and pathogens whose incidence continue to either rise, re-surge, re-emerge or expand in range. EIDs are also harder to monitor because many times, EID outbreaks are caused by pathogens that were found residing in an animal population. Along with the difficulty of tracking animal based pathogens, comes the difficulty of monitoring the movements of a human population. Changes in climate combined with the movements of humans create more places for diseases to emerge. Project Premonition is designed to give researchers early warning of diseases like Ebola, Chikungunya, SARS, MERS, and Dengue.

Microsoft Research is partnering with intelligent minds from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Health, the University of Pittsburgh, and St. George’s University to conduct a feasibility study in Grenada. The Grenada study will help the partners determine whether the project has the viability and scalability for the practical application of Project Premonition. The goal is to have thousands of these monitoring rigs around the world continuously. The Microsoft research team is individually contributing its expertise in autonomous trap design, safe cyber-physical systems, and autonomous drones. Microsoft is also offering its know-how with computational genomics to create scalable and resource-efficient responses for researchers to point out emerging infectious diseases.

I wonder if a system like this could catch/prevent a zombie outbreak.