A cockroach, out and about - hero RF

Cockroaches on the run from AI-controlled laser

Image credit: Erik Karits | Unsplash

Scientists from Heriot-Watt University have developed a system that uses lasers and artificial intelligence technology to target the problem of cockroaches.

Cockroaches are an all-pervasive, extremely resilient pest found in many countries around the world, including the UK. Such is their reputation for survival in the harshest of conditions that the myth has developed that they could even survive a nuclear bomb.

Household cockroaches can live in populations that number into the millions. They can spoil food and appliances, but are also a serious health hazard, triggering allergic reactions and the development of asthma.

Various, often imperfect methods are used to try and control cockroaches, from mechanical tools such as sticky traps to chemical approaches using gels and pastes. However, traps have a limited range and the long-term use of chemical treatments can make cockroaches resistant to insecticides.

However, the cockroaches' days could soon be numbered after a new system using artificial intelligence and lasers was unveiled, designed by a scientist at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh.

Ildar Rakhmatulin tested his AI system on cockroaches last year. His design was built using affordable, off-the-shelf equipment and detects cockroaches with high accuracy from 1.2m.

The system relies on machine vision, which basically gives a computer the ability to see. Two cameras send signals back to the computer, which pinpoints the cockroach’s position.

That information is then used to point a laser at the cockroach. Machine vision then confirms whether the cockroach is still moving or not.

Rakhmatulin and his co-authors carried out a series of experiments. When they used the laser on low power, they could change cockroach behaviour: emitting persistent heat from the laser causes the cockroaches to change position or direction. This means they can be deterred from dark hiding places.

Turning the heat up on the laser meant they could neutralise, or kill, the cockroaches from up to 1.2m.

“This laser system is a selective and eco-friendly pest control method. It’s extremely promising,” said Rakhmatulin. “It’s a tunable system, so it could be used to protect against mosquitos, to keep predatory hornets away from bees or parasites from valuable crops or stores.”

Rakhmatulin has published his methods, data and the equipment the team used online. However, the open-source information comes with a warning: “This system is not suitable for household use. The laser used will cause blindness or serious damage to the eyes.

“I’m sorry for people with cockroaches in their house, but this isn’t the solution for them.”

The world's cockroaches can breathe again – at least for now.

The research paper – 'Selective neutralisation and deterring of cockroaches with laser automated by machine vision' – has been published in the journal Oriental Insects.

Sign up to the E&T News e-mail to get great stories like this delivered to your inbox every day.

Recent articles