08/10/2013 06:53 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Mosquito Control Eyes Drones For Bug Battle


The Florida Keys Mosquito Control District is always on the lookout for innovative new ways to make the job of killing the persistent pests more efficient.

Typically used for law enforcement, the district is floating the idea of using an "unmanned autonomous vehicle" -- a drone -- to help spot shallow-water pools where mosquitoes breed up and down the Keys.

District Director Michael Doyle said he's invited several government agencies to a scheduled test flight for the UAV at its Marathon office on 107th Street at 10 a.m. Aug. 26.

The 2.2-pound, roughly 2.5-foot-long device, which Doyle said resembles a hawk in flight, would use infrared cameras to spot the shallow pools and allow the district to more quickly treat those areas with larvicide. It costs roughly $80,000 including a comprehensive insurance policy.

According to the Condor Aerial website, the battery-powered drones are capable of up to 90 minutes of flight at one time. They can operate in up to 40 mph winds, typically at altitudes from 10 to 150 feet.

"It's very much designed for law enforcement when you watch the video, but it has a short-wave infrared camera we may be able to use to detect shallow water. It may or may not; that's what we have to find out," he said.

The idea for the unmanned drone came out of the district's staff-driven sustainability summit in March. The two-day summit was to give staff and invited members of the public a chance to brainstorm ways the district could operate smoother.

"We've got about five or six different projects we're doing to find out where water is quickly to save us time treating with the larvicide," Doyle said.

Those include water sensors and cameras on offshore islands, many of which are fertile mosquito breeding grounds.

"If we can find the water, we can kill the mosquitoes. The real challenge is finding the water quickly enough," Doyle said.

The drones are products of North Carolina-based Condor Aerial, which will have a representative on hand on Aug. 26 to operate the test flight. Doyle said the district would perform several test flights and know within a week if the UAVs could help with mosquito control.

Condor Chief Executive Office Fred Culbertson said the drones have mainly been used for law enforcement search-and-rescue operations, but that more civilian uses are popping up.

"There are hundreds of these deployed across the globe, mainly for search-and-rescue operations," he said. "Everybody has a different reason to use aerial technology, but it hasn't been affordable until drones came on the scene. Over the course of time, these are easier to deploy and you don't have all the costs that go along with a full-size aircraft." ___