High-Tech Repellents Shoo Mosquitoes Away

The deadliest, and most persistent, insect in the world

Key Takeaways

  • A new mosquito repellent device called Liv connects to your smart hub. 
  • But some experts say many devices to keep mosquitos away don’t work well.  
  • One new system uses artificial intelligence to help farmers improve insect monitoring.
Someone outside spraying a child with insect repellant.

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Mosquitos kill more people than any other creature in the world, but help may be on the way in the form of high-tech repellents.  

Liv is Thermacell's first connected, on-demand mosquito repellent system for the home. There's also a variety of ultrasonic wrist gadgets to deter pesky critters. But some experts say buyers beware. 

"At least 99% of the devices that claim to deter mosquitoes are nonsense," said Eamonn Keogh, a professor of computational science at the University of California, Riverside who has invented a mosquito repellent system, told Lifewire in an email interview. 

Airborne Killers

Mosquitoes might be tiny, but they are deadly. Almost one million people a year die from mosquito-borne disease. Illnesses spread to people by mosquitoes include the Zika virus, West Nile virus, Chikungunya virus, Dengue fever, and malaria.

Mosquito-borne diseases are a growing threat. A recent paper predicts how, when, and where in Sub-Saharan Africa malaria will ebb, and other mosquito-borne diseases, such as dengue fever, will rise dramatically. 

An elderly person outdoors using an insect repellant spray.

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"Climate change is going to rearrange the landscape of infectious disease," said Stanford University biologist and study lead author Erin Mordecai in a news release. "Chikungunya and dengue outbreaks like we've recently seen in East Africa are only becoming more likely across much of the continent. We need to be ready for this emerging threat."

Liv connects many repeller units to a smart hub. Users can switch the system on and off using the hub, Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant. The Liv+ mobile app also offers control over the repellers. You can turn them on or off from anywhere, set timers, and set up push notifications. 

Liv starts at $699 for a pack of three repellers which the company claims will cover up to 945 square feet), plus the hub, cables, standard mounts, and ground stakes. The repellent uses a mosquito-repellent chemical called metofluthrin as the active ingredient, and the units heat the cartridges to emit a small amount of fog. Thermacell says the fog is odorless and provides a 20-foot radius of protection from mosquitoes.

New Alternatives

While many mosquito repellent devices have been proven ineffective, there is one exception, Keogh said. It's possible to release a chemical that does not deter mosquitoes but prevents them from finding you.

"While mosquitos can see, they have poor vision (and often fly at night)," he added. "So they almost completely rely on the smell of CO2 to find you."

Another approach is the sterile insect technique (SIT), in which scientists breed millions of mosquitoes (only males) and release them into the wild, so they mate with the wild females, but no viable eggs are produced, Keogh noted, 

Keogh is the co-founder of a company called FarmSense that in 2020 announced the debut of a smart pest monitoring system that uses artificial intelligence to help farmers improve insect monitoring. 

The company claims its system can help farmers lower pesticide and insecticide use by optimizing their application in both space and time. Data is sent to the FarmSense cloud via wireless. 

"The machine learning community examines data in so many other areas, like healthcare and credit scoring, but surprisingly, no one was tackling entomology," says Keogh. "This technology virtually eliminates the need for sticky traps and manual insect counts."

Someone spaying pesticide in a mosquito-prone area.

Mihajlo Maricic / Getty Images

But one pest control pro says that old-fashioned methods work best. Most of the over-the-counter mosquito repellent machines use sound to keep flying insects at bay, Kevin Behe, the owner of TermMax Pest Control in Tulsa, OK, said in an email interview. 

"I've never seen anyone have good luck with this," Behe said.

Behe said one new technology that works is In2Care, a system of pots placed around your yard. Inside is water and a net that floats on that water. Female mosquitoes will land on the net and lay eggs in the water. Both the net and the water are treated with pesticides that disrupt the insect's reproductive cycle. 

"The control of choice for my company is treating the yard with pesticides," Behe said. "I use a misting machine to apply the chemical evenly, and I have excellent results."

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