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Caught in a trap

One thing is sure about the summer: along with the heat will come the sting of mosquitoes. Particularly dangerous – and annoying – are the tiger variety, a tropical beast that has infiltrated the French Riviera and much of Europe. But fear not! Two entrepreneurs from Aix-en-Provence have developed a non-toxic, environmentally-friendly solution that can be deployed at home as well as in public spaces. 

A square, waist-high black box that could be a piece of garden furniture: that’s the Smart BAM device that recently won two awards at the International Computer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. Created by young entrepreneurs Simon Lillamand and Pierre Bellagambi, who proudly presented their product to the global, hi-tech audience and trade under the name Qista, the machine could help eradicate tiger mosquitos on the Côte d’Azur.

It all began in Saint-Rémy de Provence in 2012 when Lillamand and Bellagambi read a scientific report about the damning effects an insecticide in the Camargue had had on not only the targeted mosquitoes, but also a whole range of other species. From dragonflies to bats and swallows, nature was slipping into a grave imbalance.

Both 28 years old at the time and trained engineers, the two men were specialising in completely separate fields. They decided to join forces and set to work developing a prototype that would address the legitimate concerns about mosquitoes without the use of pesticides.

By imitating human prey with the help of exhaled carbon dioxide (as much as the average person would disperse) and natural body odour, the pair was able to attract female mosquitoes – the males have no need for human blood – to their device. Once the insects come within a certain distance, they are sucked in by a fan and caught in a net. If the machine has been correctly positioned, it can reduce the population of these bothersome blood-suckers by up to 80% within a radius of 60 metres, according to the manufacturers.  What makes the Smart BAM special is not necessarily the trap, CO2 and scent-based system as similar devices have been around for some time. According to Lillamand, it’s the unique performance of the machine and its suitability for private use as well as in public, urban spaces (playgrounds, parks and squares, for example).

After the Parc Naturel Régional de Camargue began to take an interest in the project, a pilot was carried out in the village of Le Sambuc during 2016. In total, 16 machines were placed and monitored between April and November. The conclusion: Qista had successfully produced a viable and environmentally-sensitive alternative to the use of pesticides. For those among us who worry about what happens to the trapped mosquitos – if there are any – it’s up to the owner of the machine…

“You can release them if you like,” laughs Lillamand, “perhaps at the border between you and a grumpy neighbour?!”

Following in-depth studies, the duo recommends operating the device for 14 hours a day during the peak summer months in order to ensure a sufficient reduction of tiger and standard mosquitoes. The power needed can be set up to run from your household supply. When selecting the location of the device, Qista will analyse satellite images of your land and consider a range of different factors. A plus for second home owners: the Smart BAM can also be controlled remotely via an app, allowing you to turn the device on even if you’re not at home.

Mosquitoes are the creatures that cause the most human deaths – through the transmission of diseases such as malaria, yellow fever, West Nile fever, but also dengue, chikungunya virus, Zika…

The product costs around €1,000 including installation and users can expect monthly running fees to be between €80 and €100. The upside is that there’s no carbon footprint. The company has already sold 600 machines on the Côte d’Azur alone.

Lillamand and Bellagambi had no help – financial or structural – in the founding of their company. They patented the product in 2014 and, at the end of 2016, moved to the Technopôle de l'Environnement Arbois Méditerranée (France's first technology centre dedicated to the environment, with a start-up incubator). The devices are put together at the technology hub using individual parts manufactured abroad.

“Assembly here on site guarantees a consistent level of quality and allows us to help our clients respond to even the smallest of operating problems,” explains Lillamand.  In May 2017, the pair won the support of two investors to the tune of €500,000: industrial gas manufacturer Air Liquide France Industrie and Thierry Dassault Holding (TDH).

Pierre Bellagambi and Simon Lillamand of Qista“This funding allows us to build sustainable structures,” continues Lillamand. “We are currently experiencing strong development and need staff for our finance, accounting and equipment production, among other things. Employee number eight will start tomorrow [early 2018]!”

The period of rapid development is unlikely to end anytime soon. Until now, Qista has largely focused on the French, local market, but will be taking the concept to Spain and Italy in 2018, and to the US and Canada in 2019. In one Canadian village that is struggling with a rife mosquito population, a pilot project using 30 devices has been underway since August last year.

“Mosquitoes are a global problem, so we should be working on a global basis as a business,” concludes Lillamand. “Mosquitoes are the creatures that cause the most human deaths – through the transmission of diseases such as malaria, yellow fever, West Nile fever, but also dengue, chikungunya virus, Zika…”

There’s certainly a lot of work on the horizon for the Qista team, but hopefully there won’t be any sleepless nights caused by exasperating mozzies! 

 

Tracking the tiger mosquito

The tiger mosquito – the aedes albopictus – was spotted for the first time in France in 2004, close to the city of Nice. Originally from Southeast Asia, the invasive species has, over the last decade, colonised much of France and is particularly prevalent in the Mediterranean regions of the country.  For more information about the tiger mosquito and the dangers the species poses, Riviera Insider recommends the Valbonne-based information portal: www.moustique-tigre.info.