Machine Design

Catching Flies With LEDs

Designed in part by University of Florida engineering students, an environmentally friendly fly trap uses battery-powered LEDs flashing at different frequencies to attract its quarry.

Julie Kalista
Online Editor

Hans Yeakel, an industrial engineering senior at the University of Florida, looks at a battery-operated bug trap that draws flies to a sticky glue strip in a disposable cartridge.
Flies make their way toward the light through slots in the trap, and get stuck on a glue strip in a disposable plastic cartridge.

Traditional bug zappers use black lights that explode insects into tiny particles. Research has shown that those particles remain in the air for up to four days or more and contain tiny bits of metal that harbor colonies of bacteria. This can create a health concern because the zappers are used near homes, restaurants, and businesses.

Black lights also use too much energy to be battery-operated, so the students tested cold cathode bulbs and LEDs. Cold cathodes also used too much energy. And, while LEDs use far less power, they took considerable research to find the best wavelength and flashing frequency to attract flies.

Students began working on the fly-trap design after Nacon Technologies, Niceville, FL approached seeking help in tweaking the current design. Their trap worked well and was used by some well-know corporations, but Nacon wanted a more effective, battery-operated trap. The project also became part of the University's Integrated Product and Process Design Program, in which students work with government or corporate sponsors on yearlong design projects.

Students tested the design at the school's insect lab, finally settling on a combination of ultraviolet and visible light flashing a repeating pattern of three different frequencies. Tests showed the trap could attract as many as three dozen flies per hour in a darkened room, although that number dropped when several lights illuminated the room. Five flies per hour is considered good in fully lit environments and the trap achieved that level or higher. But the team agrees that more work is needed.

More Information:
University of Florida
Nacon Technologies

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