The Kite Patch is a little square sticker that emits a cloak of chemical compounds that blocks a mosquito’s ability to sense humans.
Mosquitos were born to bite us, and aside from lighting worthless tiki candles, haplessly swatting them away, or resorting to spraying toxic DEET all over ourselves, there’s really not a whole lot we can do about it. Imagine then, if you could be encapsulated in an anti-mosquito bubble simply by wearing a small square sticker. Not only would it save mosquito-magnets like myself some really uncomfortable moments, it could be a major game changer in the way we prevent mosquito-borne illnesses like Malaria, Dengue Fever, and West Nile Virus.
The good news is that a sticker like this is not some far away concept dreamed up by scientists in a lab–it’s actually a real thing that you’ll likely be able to find on the shelves of your local Walgreens sometime in the not-so-distant future.
The findings were considered a breakthrough moment in the field.
Essentially, the Kite Patch is a little square sticker that emits a cloak of chemical compounds that blocks a mosquito’s ability to sense humans. According to its developers, users simply have to place the patch onto their clothes, and they become invisible to mosquitoes for up to 48 hours. This is big news for developing countries like Uganda, where residents have little beyond mosquito nets and toxic sprays to combat the illness-spreading insects.
That’s exactly where Kite’s creators, a collaborative team made up of innovation venture capital group ieCrowd and Olfactor Laboratories, intend to ship these off to as soon as they’re done blowing past their second goal on global crowdsourcing site Indiegogo. Launched just last month, the campaign surpassed its original goal of $75,000 in just four days and is now gunning for a new goal of $385,000 (currently at $336,000).
Though the Kite seems a little fantastical, it’s backed by some legitimate technology. Back in 2011, Dr. Anandasankar Ray, an entomologist at the University of California, Riverside (and founder of Olfactor Labs), found that certain chemical compounds can inhibit the carbon dioxide receptors in mosquitoes. These smelly compounds, which act like a anti-mosquito force field, are able to disorient the bugs, whose main method of tracking down humans is through our exhalation of CO2.
The findings were considered a breakthrough moment in the field, but the technology was far from ready to be applied to a consumer product mostly because the compounds were toxic and wouldn’t be able to pass through FDA and EPA approval. “It wasn’t ready to be placed into a product that could mean something globally,” explains Grey Frandsen, Vice President at ieCrowd. That’s where his company came in.
ieCrowd basically functions as the belt of an innovation assembly line, guiding an idea through the necessary steps so it can become a widely distributed, (hopefully) world-changing product. It begins with acquiring the intellectual property, like they did with Dr. Ray’s research. From there they provide all of the business infrastructure, marketing, and general support so subsidiary companies can focus exclusively on developing new technology. In the case of the Kite Patch, ieCrowd worked with a group of scientists at Olfactor Laboratories, a research facility in Riverside, Calif. that developed a new targeted library of chemical compounds based on Dr. Ray’s original research.
Olfactor’s non-toxic compounds work against mosquitoes’ long-range abilities to detect humans through CO2, as well as dampening the insect’s short-range ability to sense us from our basic human odors. These chemicals, which give off a “faint pleasant smell,” will be applied to a small sticker, which Frandsen notes is the cheapest, easiest, and most adaptable way to design a spatial insect repellant. The patches will then be shipped off to Uganda for field testing, which should begin before the end of the year. “Really, what we’re doing is creating a rapid scientific development process, a rapid prototyping process and then a very aggressive go to market strategy,” Frandsen says of ieCrowd’s method.
The product has had a little help along the way, namely from the National Institutes of Health, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. “The big names behind us have helped us advance the science,” Frandsen says. “But those grants do not cover product development.” All of the money raised from the Indiegogo campaign will be funneled into extensive field testing. Originally, the testing was going to provide 20,000 patches (around 1 million hours of coverage) to one district in Uganda. The extra money raised will double the number of Kite Patches shipped and expand the coverage to four million hours in three political districts in the country.
“This technology is too important to just funnel directly to the Walgreens.”
The idea is to refine the Kite as much as possible during the field testing and hone in on three main goals, the first being to analyze the adaptability of the patch. So, is it easy to apply and wear? Does it work well both at morning and at night? Does it fall off people’s clothing at after a certain point? The second is to test the effectiveness of the technology in harsh conditions found in places like Sub-Saharan Africa. Scientists have yet to determine exactly how far the sticker’s spatial radius extends and will be looking to see how it reacts to wind and extreme weather. Lastly, the field testing will evaluate how the sticker interacts with and can supplement current malaria prevention technology like bed nets.