|By Ben Steelman, Star-News, Wilmington,
N.C.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Jan. 19, 2011--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.
Although bedbugs have made headlines in big cities, where they've been found in posh hotels, they're also in Wilmington, said Chris Goggin, who's tagged along with technicians from Clegg's Termite and Pest Control.
"I've seen infestations you wouldn't believe," he said.
No bigger than an apple seed in their full-grown adult stage, bedbugs take refuge in cracks, crevices and fabric seams around a room. It's an urban legend, Goggin said, that the bugs only feed at night: "They'll come out any time."
They can spread by latching on to animal hair, luggage, the human body or even someone's shoes.
Oak Island termite inspector Bill Moyer filed a patent on a bedbug detector that locates high concentrations of the bugs from the high levels of carbon dioxide they give off. These units sell for $1,358 and are marketed mainly to pest control companies.
Goggin, a mechanical engineer who holds some two dozen patents, took a different approach. Which is where Nina, the Goggins' pet came in.
Bedbugs give off very specific pheromones, or hormones, with very specific odors -- one reason that exterminators often train dogs as bedbug detectors.
"Dogs work great," Goggin said. "But they take a while to train, you have to feed them, and you have to clean up after them."
Looking at Nina, Christine Goggin wondered if a machine could "sniff" as precisely as a dog could. The result was two years of product development.
"It took a lot of software," Goggin said, "a lot of (computer) code and some chemistry."
What he and his machinist and model maker John Matthews came up with was a handheld device about the size and shape of a 1960s transistor radio.
The key to the device is a digitized organic compound sensor. Exactly how it works is proprietary, but basically, Goggin said, it detects two bedbug-specific pheromones at concentrations as small as 200 parts per million in the air. When the device "sniffs" those pheromones through its air intake, its flat-panel display lights up with alarms.
The idea is that a hotel guest or a worried homeowner could sweep the device over bedding, furniture, clothes, shoes, wall sockets or anywhere else bedbugs might be hiding. Once the alarm goes off, they could start washing and spraying.
With a little reprogramming, Goggin added, the same device could be used to detect cockroaches or dry wood termites.
Aside from the sensor unit, the Bedbug Detective is mostly crafted from off-the-shelf parts and molded plastic. With help from friends at Clegg's (and bedbugs captured in vacuum bags), the Goggin team honed and successfully tested their prototype in the field.
"Anything we can find to help us identify them is definitely a plus," said Johnny Russ of Clegg's.
The Goggins and their business partners plan to market the Bedbug Detective through Aquatic Innovations LLC, a company they originally set up to make and distribute pool-related products.
"We convinced them to kind of push the envelope," Chris Goggin said.
The Bedbug Detective will likely be marketed online at first. At least one big-name catalog company has expressed an interest, Goggin said.
Goggin's previous innovations range from a fat-reducing spin fryer (licensed to George Foreman) to parts for the Air Force's F-22 Raptor jet fighter.
In 2007, a radio-powered, miniaturized switch he developed was a finalist in The History Channel's Modern Marvels Invent Now Challenge. The switch drew the attention of Time magazine, which suggested it could power sensors that could warn of dangerous stresses in bridges and other structures.
Creating the Bedbug Detective, however, left Chris Goggin with "a very, very healthy respect" for his targets.
"I think they're creepy," he added.
Ben Steelman: 343-2208
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Copyright (c) 2011, Star-News, Wilmington, N.C.
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