An electronic speaker that emits a high-pitched tone which only young people can hear is being used to clear out unwanted teen hangouts.
The Mosquito, which targets loiterers, projects a shrill noise audible only to teens and young adults. Almost 1,000 units of the device, called the Mosquito, have been sold in the United States and Canada after the product debuted last year, according to Daniel Santell, the North America importer of the device sold under the company name Kids Be Gone.
The high-frequency sound has been likened to fingernails dragged across a chalkboard or a pesky mosquito buzzing in your ear. It can be heard by most people in their teens and early 20s who still have sensitive hair cells in their inner ears. Whether you can hear the noise depends on how much your hearing has deteriorated: How loud you blast your iPod, for example, could affect your ability to detect it.
“It’s horrible, loud and irritating,” said Eddie Holder, 15, who sprinted from his apartment for school one morning covering one ear with his hand to block out the noise. The device was installed outside the building to drive away loiterers. “I have to hurry out of the building because it’s so annoying. It’s this screeching sound that you have to get away from or it will drive you crazy.”
The device has roiled civil liberties groups in countries where it’s in use, including England, Australia and Scotland. England’s government-appointed Children’s Commission proposed a ban. That group describes it as a weapon that infringes on the basic rights of young people and claims that it could have unknown long-term health effects. The $1,500 device has also been challenged in some American cities and towns that have proposed installing it, with some criticizing the tactic as needlessly cruel.
Santell said the noise can be heard by animals and babies but is bothersome only to children older than 12 and becomes unbearable after several minutes, making it a perfect teen-repellent. The same sound is used as a cell phone ring tone by deaf adults and is a popular download on the Internet.
From the Kids Be Gone website: “Is your business suffering from anti social youths driving your customers away? Are you bothered by crowds of teenager’s hanging around your street or business and making life unpleasant? Mosquito ultrasonic deterrent can solve your problems.”
It’s fascinating that the Mosquito tone has already been downloaded by millions of teenagers as a ringtone, presumably so teachers and parents won’t know their cell is ringing. Shoe, meet other foot. American and foreign militaries have long been developing acoustic weapons; it seems to me that the Mosquito qualifies as one.
UPDATE: Reader Jeremy provided the link to test which level of the Mosquito tone you can hear. I can hear the tone up to 14hz, which appears to be age appropriate.