How the Photonic Fence Works

Last week, Nathan Myhrvold, founder and CEO of Intellectual Ventures presented several of IV’s “malaria projects” to the audience at TED 2010. The Photonic Fence is one piece in a suite of inventions we are working on to help track, understand, detect, treat and eradicate malaria. It has captured a lot of attention and we have received many questions about how it works. In response, we wanted to share some details on the mechanics of this project.

The following video of 3ric Johanson was shot the night before our TED talk at 3 AM in a hallway of the hotel. The hotel staff were good sports despite the death rays and bug boxes.

The Photonic Fence is not for sale today. IV does not produce products, but ideas. To that end, this prototype is a proof of concept. We are looking to partner with another company or organization to make this idea a reality. So stay tuned.

You can learn more about our other malaria projects here and stay tuned to the lab blog for future updates.

This entry was posted in Project and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


  1. Yongsoo Hwang
    Posted February 18, 2010 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    Could you briefly tell me about the difference between your Terrapower and fast reactors?
    I believe that some of fast reactors(not fast breader reactors) might have the almost same features.

    Best wishes,


  2. Gary Richards
    Posted February 18, 2010 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    Although it maybe off the shelf equioment, it looks to be very sophisticated and expensive. Can it be designed to be manufactured cheap enough for the consumer and still be effective? What would be the target price range. Some innovations get set up high enough so the more well to do can afford them and production can be limited but still very profitable. Not falling into the well to do category, I’d be looking for a resonable price range.

  3. Gary Richards
    Posted February 18, 2010 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

    Although it maybe off the shelf equioment, it looks to be very sophisticated and expensive. Can it be designed to be manufactured cheaply enough for the average consumer to afford and still be effective? What would be the target price range? Some innovations get priced high enough so only the more well to do can afford them and production can be limited but still very profitable. Since I don’t fall into the well to do category, I’d be hoping for a reasonable price range.

  4. Posted February 18, 2010 at 11:52 pm | Permalink

    This system, as shown, is using almost completely off the shelf parts as part of a development cycle. It’s also more complicated as it has demonstration features (video out, tracking screen, etc).

    A real product would not have an expensive laptop w/ a GPU.. it would be an custom image processing board, not unlike what you have in your point and shoot camera. Ditto for the optics and lasers. In short, this contains the same level of complexity of a optical disk drive – - laser beam steering, processing image data, and motion control, etc. The exact usage is very different, and with that comes a bit more complication; however, at the end of the day insects move much more slowly than the wobble on a cdrom disc.

    Target price is going to have to be ‘cost effective’. We are a bit far away from being able to predict accurate price based on this early prototype. It will also depend on volume produced and the level of packaging done to the device. Yes, the photos of the device look shiny – - we have some amazing photographers at the Intellectual Ventures Lab, and they’ve outdone themselves again. :)

  5. Posted February 20, 2010 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    What kind of laser are you using to do the actual “zapping” of the mosquitoes?

  6. Jeffery Rackliff
    Posted July 22, 2010 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

    Mr. Johnson: May I state unequivocally that you guys FAWKING RAWK. You and yours have demonstrated again that reason and refusing to be bound to a box of thinking that low cost ingenious solutions can be found that are not only effective, but bury the needle on the Cool-o-meter. This is the very reason I read MAKE, and give subscriptions for Christmas.

    Please begin work on the following: a holodeck, better tasting tooth paste and warp drive. I expect them at the end of the week. (ha.)


    Jeffery Rackliff

  7. Posted May 7, 2011 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

    Please update us on the status of low cost components to build this. There are lots of people waiting to learn more. Happy to buy one as well. So do you have a waiting list?

  8. Nick Vu
    Posted May 10, 2011 at 11:53 am | Permalink

    @David Mabelle
    Check out
    for some updates since this post was written. We’ll reveal more soon ;)

    The hope is to license out the technology…so no waiting lists. We invent, then pass it on to others to produce. We’re still on the look out for that special someone.

  9. Posted August 17, 2011 at 10:52 pm | Permalink

    This is really amazing idea. I like this post very much, because this blog is full of interesting information. This concept is unique and latest.

  10. Posted November 4, 2012 at 10:27 pm | Permalink

    I am really impressed with your writing talents and also
    with the format to your weblog. Is that this a paid subject or did you
    modify it yourself? Either way keep up the excellent high quality writing,
    it’s uncommon to see a great weblog like this one today..

  11. Posted December 16, 2012 at 4:28 am | Permalink

    A fascinating discussion is definitely worth comment.
    I think that you should write more about this subject matter, it may not
    be a taboo matter but generally people don’t talk about such topics. To the next! Many thanks!!

  12. Posted December 28, 2012 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

    If some one desires expert view on the topic of running a blog after that i suggest him/her to pay a quick visit this webpage, Keep up the pleasant work.

  13. Posted March 25, 2013 at 6:19 am | Permalink

    I do not know if it’s just me or if everyone else encountering issues with your site. It appears like some of the written text on your posts are running off the screen. Can somebody else please comment and let me know if this is happening to them as well? This may be a problem with my web browser because I’ve had
    this happen previously. Kudos

    • Katie Miller
      Posted March 25, 2013 at 6:24 am | Permalink

      If you update your browser or try a different browser, the issue should be resolved. Thanks.

One Trackback

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Subscribe and Follow