Tiny aircraft equipped with cameras may soon be snooping around abandoned lots and overgrown fields in Lafayette, searching for old tires, discarded cans, small puddles and other areas where a bit of water invites breeding mosquitoes.
Mosquito Control Contractors Inc., which has the public contract to spray for the insects in Lafayette Parish, is testing the use of remote-controlled drones for doing what’s known in the mosquito business as “surveillance.”
MCCI owner Glenn Stokes said his crews are always on the lookout for mosquito breeding sites to treat with larvicide, but some areas are trickier to find than others, such as an old tire filled with stagnant rainwater sitting in the middle of a weedy abandoned lot.
“We call them cryptic,” Stokes said of these hidden mosquito havens.
A little water might seem insignificant, but just a few ounces offers a hatchery for hordes of the pesky insects.
“A couple of hundred, easily, out of a can,” Stokes said.
The hope is workers can use remote-controlled drones to fly over suspect areas and get a birds-eye view via video link with a smartphone or tablet.
Stokes envisions using the drones to inspect areas that are difficult to access either because the land is overgrown, fenced in or both. The drones also could be used to inspect large water retention areas to pinpoint any small pools refusing to drain.
“It’s opening up a whole new world,” he said.
A handful of mosquito control companies in the U.S. are beginning to use drone technology. Stokes said he was introduced to the idea at the American Mosquito Control Association’s meeting in New Orleans in January.
Researchers already are developing drones that not only look for breeding sites but also collect water samples to analyze for mosquito larvae and spray for mosquitoes.
The LSU AgCenter is exploring such specialized drones for East Baton Rouge Parish Mosquito Abatement and Rodent Control.
“This is the thing of the future,” Stokes said.
Lafayette officials acknowledge the privacy concerns.
“I certainly want to get in touch with our legal department,” said City-Parish Emergency Operations and Security Coordinator Bobby Cormier, who oversees the mosquito-control contract for Lafayette Parish. “We are certainly going to have a policy in place before it is deployed. I can see where it would be a useful tool under the right circumstances.”
Stokes said his company, which offered a demonstration of the technology on Thursday, began experimenting with drones about three months ago.
He said the drones would not be used in any area where a property owner objects, the devices would fly no higher than 30 feet and no images would be kept that are not related to mosquito breeding sites.
“We are only interested in finding water that no one knows about, including the owner, that can be treated,” Stokes said.