Stephen Roberts, Professor of Machine Learning in the Department of Engineering Science and a Fellow of Somerville College, has been interviewed by BBC Radio Oxford following the receipt of a £500,000 Google impact prize.

The BBC Radio Oxford Breakfast Show, hosted by presenter Phil Gayle, asked Professor Roberts about his quest to create sensors that should help to reduce mosquito-related deaths.

“The sensors pick up the characteristic whining noise of mosquitoes and different species of mosquito make very subtly different frequencies associated with their wingbeats [which] means we can detect what kind of mosquito it is,” Professor Robert told BBC Oxford.

Detecting the species of mosquito is especially important, Roberts explained, because only certain species are carriers for malaria, dengue fever and other diseases that pose a major threat to human health and life.

“By being able to detect the wrong kind of mosquito we can work out exactly where and when that detection took place, which gives us a fantastic overview of malarial hotspots, for example, and that’s very important because at the moment nobody really knows about a malarial outbreak until people start getting very ill,” he said.

Roberts said that the aim of the sensors was thus to act as an “early warning system”. The Google award has meant Professor Roberts’s team is now able to work to a timescale of one year to develop and refine the first prototypes, which will be used for pilot field studies in Indonesia.

The radio programme, which aired on Tuesday morning, can be listened to on the BBC Radio Oxford website. The interview with Professor Roberts begins at 50:30.

More details about the Google award can be found on the Engineering Department website. The research project is being run in collaboration with Kew Gardens (represented by Professor Kathy Willis) and the Oxford Malaria Atlas Project (represented by Dr Marianne Sinka).

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