Repurposing Technology from Comets to Hotel Corners

In 2004 the European Space Agency launched the Rosetta probe into space. It travelled 317 million miles through the universe before reaching its destination, Comet 67P, 10 years later.

On board Rosetta was Philae, a lander module with a mini laboratory. Inside this mini-lab was a mass spectrometer, a gas analyser the size of a shoebox, there to decipher the chemical make-up of comet 67P.

Back on Earth the knowledge and techniques acquired during the development of the instruments in the mini-lab have been applied to a more everyday use. A company called Insect Research Systems teamed up with ESA scientists and included the specific mass spectrometry technology in a small, portable device to quickly and cheaply detect bed bugs in hotels.

Bed bugs present an enormous problem in the hotel industry and they are becoming increasingly resistant to insecticides. There is currently no way of spotting an infestation before the parasites start to bite and getting rid of them is a lengthy and expensive process for the hotel, often with ongoing consequences for their reputation.

The space-inspired bed-bug detecting technology will sniff out pheromones, chemical signatures released by the insects in real-time. The device is currently being trialled in a pilot study, but looks set to become commercially available soon and provide a proactive way for hoteliers to screen rooms for the critters.