Researchers in Scotland have developed a way to “neutralize” the creepy crawlies in the coolest way possible: by shooting them with lasers. Ildar Rakhmatulin, a research associate at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, recently partnered with a group of engineers, biologists and machine learning experts to develop a cockroach-compromised, AI-powered laser device. Rakhmatulin had previously developed a combination of raspberry pi and lasers to kill mosquitoes, but after recognizing the impact of roach infestations on the restaurant industry and general public health, he wanted to go bigger.
The system starts with a single-board Jetson Nano, a small computer capable of running deep learning algorithms. Using 1,000 images of cockroaches in different lighting, Rakhmatulin and his team trained the Nano to recognize its target and track the insect’s movements. Once the two cameras attached to the device detect a roach, the Nano calculates the distance to its target in 3D space. It then sends this information to a galvanometer, which uses mirrors to adjust the direction of the laser. The laser can then be fired at the target.
The effect of a laser varies depending on its power level. The low energy appears to trigger the insect’s flight response, which the team thinks may teach the roaches not to return to a particular area. Stronger energy levels “neutralize” (AKA kill) roaches. Even better, the team is already testing it on a wide range of insects like hornets.
Technologies like Rakhmatulin can be an effective alternative to more conventional anti-roach measures. Mechanical and adhesive traps are best used as monitoring tools as a means of getting rid of roaches, as they catch or kill a few passers-by at a time. Although effective on a larger scale, many pesticides contain “permanent chemicals” that enter the environment and pose serious public health risks. Some are even dangerous to use around children or pets.
But it will be a while before the team’s roach laser becomes available to the hospitality industry or public health agencies — if ever. There is technology though comparatively Cheap (Rakhmatulin writes that each of the device’s five components cost under $250), it has so far been unable to target a specific part of an insect’s body, which would make it more effective. Its actual laser component is also dangerous to human eyes without proper precautions.