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UK space tech turns to bed bug detection

10 February 2016

With bed bugs supposedly on the rise in the UK, a low-cost, easy-to-use bed bug detector has been developed for the hotel industry using UK space technology.

From left, Insect Research Systems’ CTO, Taff Morgan and CEO, Jason Littler (photo: Gerard Giorgi-Coll)

The detector is based on the know-how developed for the Rosetta space mission, which included the first spacecraft ever to have landed on a comet.

UK scientists were involved in the development of ten of the mission’s instruments for the Philae laboratory, which landed on comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko on November 12 2014.

One of these was Ptolemy, a gas analyser the size of a shoebox. Now UK company Insect Research Systems has used the techniques developed as part of Ptolemy’s creation, to build a small, portable system that will quickly and cheaply detect the minute bodily gas emissions from bed bugs in hotel rooms –  infestations of which can cost a hotel thousands to rectify as well as severely damaging its reputation.

The Ptolemy instrument is an ‘Evolved Gas Analyser’, the first example of a new concept in space instruments, devised to tackle the challenge of analysing substances ‘on location’. It was produced by a collaboration of the UK’s Rutherford Appleton Laboratory and Open University.

Insect Research Systems is one of the first companies to take advantage of the Science & Technology Facilities Council's new Campus Technology Hub (CTH) in Cheshire, which provides UK businesses and start-ups with affordable access to more than £2m worth of advanced engineering technology, with particularly strong focus on 3D printing. The company is using the CTH 3D printing technology to develop the prototype for its bespoke handheld detection monitor that will sniff out the chemical signatures of bed bugs in real-time.

“Thanks to the latest 3D printing capabilities, the excellent design input and technical support available at the Campus Technology Hub we have been able to optimise the design of our prototype and now have a product that we can demonstrate to future investors," says Taff Morgan, chief technical officer and co-founder of Insect Research Systems. "This is extremely valuable to us in that we are developing our prototype significantly quicker and more cost effectively than through traditional routes.”

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