And Finally

No fly zone

Why an entrepreneur mailed Obama his revolutionary fly-slaying device

One of Hu Xilin's 10 million victims

China’s ‘Lord of the Flies’ isn’t an eastern version of the famous novel about schoolboys marooned on an island. He’s an entrepreneur with an unusual innovation: an environmentally-friendly ‘Fly Slaying Machine’.

Hu Xilin, a Zhejiang native, has pioneered a new fly trap that has helped catch more than 10 million flies and has reportedly made him a US dollar millionaire.

Hu’s 12-year quest to exterminate these common insects began after accidentally swallowing a fly at a business dinner. He fell ill and his clients’ disgust cost him the deal.

The kung fu enthusiast began by catching flies barehanded and studying his tiny enemies. He spent Rmb3 million ($438,000) developing his machine, and received a patent in 2007.

The ‘Fly Slayer Maxi’ is energy efficient and doesn’t require toxic chemicals. It attracts flies within a 50 metre radius, and costs $140 online. It consists of two rotating cylinders either side of a clear glass box and is powered by a small motor. Flies are attracted to strips on the cylinders by a special jam or sugar solution. The cylinders rotate and the flies are trapped in the box. The flies drown or die of exhaustion.

Hu also has an eye for self-promotion. When US President Barack Obama was caught on camera swatting a fly recently, Hu sent two of his ‘Fly Slayers’ to the US-based animal rights group PETA, requesting they be given to President Obama. “It is not hygienic for President Obama to swat a fly with his hand,” he said, “the machine can catch the insect alive automatically.”

It’s not known whether the Commander-in-Chief received his machines. But a solar-powered model of the fly trap was used during the 2008 Beijing Olympics to keep flies off the athletes’ vegetables. “To promote products is just like participating in the Olympic games,” Hu observed, “it requires the courage to try.”

As Hu’s story illustrates, the China story is no longer just about making shoes as cheaply as possible. The country’s firms are increasingly keen to move up the value chain through R&D investment. In fact, China’s annual patent registration is predicted to surpass Japan’s by 2011. Only this week, Reuters readers were intrigued to discover that Chinese firm ZTE has been helping rural Kenyans communicate through a solar-powered mobile phone it launched in August.

Hu sees the future as solar too. The Shanghai Centre for Disease Control is planning to use a solar-powered model of the ‘Fly Slayer’ during the 2010 World Expo, which starts next May.

Hu’s invention will catch flies during the day, and provide street lighting at night.


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