Project Premonition of Microsoft involves building an army of drones to catch mosquitoes and stop epidemics by cloud computing the data.

Researchers are now planning to use drones in the field of medical science which will catch the mosquitoes and ultimately aid in preventing the spread of major mosquito borne diseases such as Dengue fever and malaria.

Project Premonition, is an initiative of Microsoft; it is basically a system which focuses to detect the outbreak of infectious diseases before they get converted into an epidemic.

The researchers at Microsoft plan to use a fleet of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) in remote areas which are prone to dengue fever or malaria.

Using the drone technology will help researchers to reach a huge crowd and save a larger number of lives from dreadful diseases.

The major key lies in catching mosquitoes and analyzing them for the potential viruses of diseases which these mosquitoes carry.

Ethan Jackson, a Microsoft researcher who heads Project Premonition mentioned in the company’s blog: “The mosquito is the most dangerous animal on the planet, because it carries so many pathogens. What we want to do is to be able to catch that mosquito efficiently, at scale and at low cost.”

In the present scenario, scientists hand pick the samples of mosquitoes by hanging traps from trees. Microsoft’s drones on the other hand would not only speed up the process but also it will be much cheaper because portable drones will be able to cover huge areas and they can collect much bigger samples to the base for tests.

Thus analyzing the samples brought by drones will help scientists to keep a constant check on spread of known diseases that are carried by mosquitoes. The other aspect here is that the samples will also help scientists to detect various emerging viruses present in the genes of the insect  and thus stop the widespread of epidemics even before they begin to spread.

To achieve this goal researchers are also developing special software which will accurately process the genetic data of the mosquitoes collected by the fleet of their drones. This study will further help researchers to understand the viruses which are responsible for widespread of diseases and also to understand how these diseases spread.

Though it might sound like some unbelievable stuff from science fiction movie, Project Premonition aims to be a fact than fiction.

Last week, Microsoft presented their findings at the Microsoft Innovation TechFair in Washington, DC. They had carried out at a feasibility study using their drones.

Currently, Microsoft researchers are focused on developing the system and they are taking help from various academic partners across multiple disciplines to develop the system into reality in the next five years. The system aims at collecting and analyzing the mosquitoes to check for early signs which could potentially spread harmful diseases.

Douglas Norris, a professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Maryland, said: “The ability to predict an epidemic would be huge.”

As they say ‘precaution is better than cure’, if one can get prior warning of some potential epidemic outbreak then it can be stopped or limited by using appropriate vaccinations and setting up apt health clinics. Besides government can put some travelling restrictions before the situation gets out of control.

Norris, often has to work in remote areas and he still uses the mosquito traps which were being used since 1950s or 60s. These traps are not feasible due to expensive batteries, chemicals which are difficult to source and the trap collects bugs of all sorts besides mosquitoes. Norris says these methods are in need of improvement in terms of technology and efficiency and this is where the Project Premonition comes into the picture.

The drones built by Microsoft needs to operate semi autonomously and it would be assisted by human pilots for now. The ability of the drones to navigate on their own would make sure that they would be able to travel greater distances and larger areas. In order to make Project Premonition a success researchers will have to do much more programming and research; however the team is looking to make this project a real success. The drones will also be attached with special mosquito traps which Microsoft will develop.

The next challenge after collecting the mosquitoes is their analysis to detect the potentially hazardous microbes and viruses which could be responsible for spreading diseases in humans.

James Pipas, a professor of molecular biology at the University of Pittsburgh and who is a part of the Premonition Project says: “Until recently, the idea of culling through mosquitoes to try to find diseases that are both known and unknown would have been wildly impractical.”

However, with an advancement in molecular biology and genetic sequencing researchers will be able to extract the multiple viruses, known as well as unknown, from the collected samples at much faster and cheaper ways.

Further, researchers can use the Cloud databases to store the important data which they find in the analysis of the samples and also come up with algorithms for figuring out which of these viruses present a potential threat to humans or animals that humans usually rely on.

According to Pipas, though it may be difficult to actually figure out as to which virus, from the ones identified, may pose a threat to humans and animals; however such a system will definitely help in preventing any outbreaks.

Researchers involved in the Project Premonition are hoping to build a robust system that will be capable of spotting the potential threat to humans and animals alike in near future.