The Internets are buzzing this week over a handheld device which the technology magazine and ‘blog “Popular Science” highlighted and granted a “2011 Invention Award”, according to Popular Science writer Brooke Borel. The “Bed Bug Detective” purports to mimic a trained dog’s smelling mechanism and the inventor claims it works as a bed bug detector.
[The device] uses CO2 and methane sensors, as well as a proprietary pheromone detector, to pinpoint bedbugs to within one square inch, from a distance three times as far away as a dog could. The device can also tell the bugs’ sex. The handheld unit will go on sale this year for $200. [The inventor] says a new model that works for a wider variety of pests, including cockroaches, ants and mice, is on the way.
The Bed Bug Detective first crossed our radar in late January (as evidenced by this Bedbugger Forum thread), when its inventor, Chris Goggin, was profiled in his local Wilmington, NC paper.
A cocker spaniel named Nina helped inspire a Wilmington inventor to develop a device to detect bedbugs.
Chris Goggin and his wife, Christine, say they hope to put their “Bedbug Detective” on the market within six to eight weeks.
The retail price per unit should be around $200. They hope to sell it to upscale travelers, who can use the device to tell if a hotel or motel room is infested with the pesky parasites.
According to Popular Science, Goggin is a “mechanical engineer and former product developer — his résumé includes military missile electronics, the George Foreman Spin Fryer, and fuel-tank mechanisms for the F-22 Raptor jet…”.
Borel did not clarify the criteria for qualifying for these awards and the judging process, particularly for the bed bug detector.
If this device works as described in the article, it would be a quantum leap in the fight against bed bugs, which can be quite arduous and filled with uncertainty. A trip to a hotel, restaurant or theater can end up costing far beyond the original tab if the facility is infested with bed bugs and the guest brings them home.
As participants in the Bedbugger community know, people who are exposed to bed bugs in travel, those who are about to move to a new home but discover bed bugs in their current one, and those who need to move because their current building has an intractable problem, all need to determine which of their belongings is harboring even a single stray insect. Ultimately, people pay thousands of dollars for treatments like gas fumigation, abandon property, or risk transferring bed bugs to their new homes and neighbors. With a low-maintenance tool, not susceptible to fatigue or error (as dogs can be), the tables have been turned in favor of man.
Was this award given for a device that was convincingly demonstrated to expert judges to work? Is Popular Science going on the inventor’s statement? Or, is the award for “concept”?
Can such a device be brought to market in 2011 and sold for $200? When companies possessing the “economies of scale” of Apple or Samsung struggle to bring to market evolutionary devices and sell them for $500, can a solo inventor pull it off and sell his for $200? And as it serves a unique and critical purpose, why price it so low? A Colorado inventor created a relatively low-tech device (the Packtite) which is used to gently bake and decontaminate items known or suspected to harbor bed bugs (bed bugs die at around 115-125F). It sells for $300. People will pay multiples of that for a device that tells you if a room is invested or an item requires treatment.
It is feasible to make an electronic nose for bedbugs but the detector would need to be based on a GC/MS (Gas Chromatography Mass Spectrometer) and if you had not already guessed they are not cheap and certainly not hand held.
The ink is barely dry on the story of a device called the “ADE-651” explosives detector. A small hand-held unit, it sold for $15,000-60,000 and was purchased by, among others, security forces in Iraq. Investigators found the item to be an empty plastic box containing a merchandise security type of RFID tag. It detected nothing. British Authorities have banned the device’s export and are prosecuting its producers.
Is there valid science behind the Bed Bug Detective; that bed bugs (and their hard to detect and eradicate eggs) can be detected by their trail of carbon dioxide, methane and pheromones?
Are we witnessing a breakthrough product?
Or something useful, but limited in ability (note that CO2 detectors for termites exist, but they can only detect insects at 6 inches or less and at far greater cost)?
Or a re-hash of the ADE-651?
Is this invention market-ready, or is it, like many concepts that have graced the pages of Popular Science, just a concept?
If the Bed Bug Detective is “the real McCoy,” then Chris Goggin should not only get the Popular Science 2011 Invention Award — he ought to get the Nobel Prize.
By granting this award, Popular Science has raised expectations. Fairly soon, people will be recommending to those fighting or fearing bed bugs to “just buy a bed bug detector.” Hoteliers whose guests just found bed bugs will tell this to their guests. Landlords whose tenants just found bed bugs. Office managers to workers in infested workplaces. Commenters on news articles about the epidemic or on sad Internet stories of a person or family’s exposure and struggle. Will there be a $200 (or even $1,200) device that will solve their problem, and soon?
Editor’s note: We don’t recommend you invest in a product unless it has been tested by independent entomologists. We look forward to seeing independent and field testing data on this product. In the meantime, if you’re trying to figure out whether you have bed bugs, you might find our FAQ on detection methods helpful.
Editor’s Update (5/31):
- Anonymous BBD-100 fans accuse Chris Goggin of copying that product (BBD-100 is another device which claims to detect bed bugs);
- Goggin and fans of the Bed Bug Detective outline the technological differences between the Bed Bug Detective and BBD-100;
- Someone does a drive-by diatomaceous earth promotion (!)
- And finally, a British Pest Control Association representative requests an opportunity to field test the Bed Bug Detective.