You’ve never seen a bug zapper quite like this.

Considering we are now in the year 2023, it feels like there ought to be some better way to defend our homes from invading insects such as cockroaches than a rolled-up magazine or noxious mixtures of chemicals. Sure, there have been some novel devices over the years, but never something that felt like the true future of pest control.

That may soon change, thanks to a development by a research team at the Institute of Laser Engineering at Osaka University. The group, led by Professors Hiroshi Fuji and Kazuhisa Yamamoto, have found possibly the most efficient laser pest control system to date which may one day render conventional pesticides obsolete.

▼ A look at how it works from the system’s perspective

Anti-insect lasers have been in development for over a decade now, mainly with the aim of eliminating mosquitoes and the diseases they carry. However, their bodies are much smaller than most insects and even though they can be completely irradiated by a laser aimed in their general direction, energy consumption for long-range shooting and cost-effectiveness remain an issue.

Not only that, but in the case of insects that damage crops, their bodies tend to be much larger than a mosquito’s and thus would require a laser of proportionally larger size and intensity, making it that much more difficult to implement. Take the tobacco cutworm moth for example; this girthy two-by-three centimeter pest and the voracious appetite of its larvae can devastate entire crops.

So, what the team did was find the weak spots where the moth is most vulnerable to a laser blast. Perhaps unsurprisingly these locations turned out to be the face and chest, or “thorax” to use the more common insect term. The next step was to create a blue laser diode gun that could target and lock on to these weak spots before firing a precision beam and terminating the insect in one headshot like a little laser-toting John Wick.

▼ A tobacco cutworm moth getting taken out mid-flight in a puff of smoke

This could become a game-changer as the tobacco cutworm is notoriously resistant to pesticides. It’s not limited to that one insect either. Using the same technique of finding chinks in their armor, the research team were able to also zap down desert locusts by hitting them square in the thorax. They say it also has the potential to work on household pests such as flies and cockroaches.

Using this technology, the concern of insects becoming resistant to pesticides would become no more and the damage such chemicals cause to other wildlife and the environment would also be eliminated. Also, with the efficient termination of pests near agricultural areas worldwide an estimated 26 trillion yen (US$200 billion) in produce could be saved, preventing food shortages.

▼ How it would look from our perspective

It was enough to make many online fantasize about the potential benefits and pitfalls this kind of technology might bring to the world.

“It’s kind of like Star Wars.”
“Can it really handle the thousands of bugs flying around a farm?”
“I wonder if the insects will become laser-proof in the future…or maybe learn to shoot back.”
“That’s pretty cool.”
“Farms are huge so I still think the cost would be too high to cover everywhere.”
“You could probably mount it on a drone to cover more area.”
“It’s like the system in the Castle of Cagliostro.”
“It depends what kind of range that thing would have.”

The costs of protecting an entire field with these lasers may still be an issue, but the ability to ensure one-shot precision kills can help to reduce them considerably. Even if that turns out to be a major hurdle they could still be suitable for home use to search and destroy anything from gnats to roaches. And nothing says “the future” like a laser turret in my kitchen that snipes roaches with extreme prejudice before I can even notice they’re there.

Source: Osaka University, Institute of Laser Engineering, Itai News, Netlab
Top image: YouTube/大阪万博
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