Frickin’ Laser Beams!

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

There are various and sometimes imperfect methods to try and control cockroaches such as mechanical methods like sticky traps and chemical methods like gels and pastes. Traps have a limited range, and long-term use of chemical treatments can make cockroaches resistant to insecticides.

Professor Ildar Rakhmatulin has created a system, which was all built using affordable, off-the-shelf equipment, that 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 give the cockroach’s position. This information is then used to point the laser toward 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 1.2 m.

“This laser system is selective and eco-friendly pest control method. It’s extremely promising”, says Rakhmatulin. “It’s a tuneable 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 equipment 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.”

Maybe one day we’ll have safe to use at home lasers to get rid of those pesky cockroaches!

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