Laser Zaps Cockroaches Over One Meter

You may have missed this month’s issue of Oriental Insects, in which a project by [Ildar Rakhmatulin] Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh caught our attention. [Ildar] led a team of researchers in the development of an AI-controlled laser that neutralizes moving cockroaches at distances of up to 1.2 meters. Noting the various problems using chemical pesticides for pest control, his team sought out a non-conventional approach.

The heart of the pest controller is a Jetson Nano, which uses OpenCV and Yolo object detection to find the cockroaches and galvanometers to steer the laser beam. Three different lasers were used for testing, allowing the team to evaluate a range of wavelengths, power levels, and spot sizes. Unsurprisingly, the higher power 1.6 W laser was most efficient and quicker.

The project is on GitHub (here) and the cockroach machine learning image set is available here. But [Ildar] points out in the conclusion of the report, this is dangerous. It’s suitable for academic research, but it’s not quite ready for general use, lacking any safety features. This report is full of cockroach trivia, such as the average speed of a cockroach is 4.8 km/h, and they run much faster when being zapped. If you want to experiment with cockroaches yourself, a link is provided to a pet store that sells the German Blattela germanica that was the target of this report.

If this project sounds familiar, it is because it is an improvement of a previous project we wrote about last year which used similar techniques to zap mosquitoes.

40 thoughts on “Laser Zaps Cockroaches Over One Meter

        1. I will say this much… it beats trying to ride an emu… you’ll never catch the bastards… allegedly they can run the pants off a kangaroo.

          (And no, I’ve never seen a kangaroo wearing pants…)

    1. You know, seeing that home robots are making slow but steady inroads in the home, I cannot stop thinking about “Runaway”, truly some far ahead thinking there. How about the “drones” for surveillance ? scary, the mini rocket pistol ?…

      1. I want to see someone make a fully functional version of the triangular drone from the rogue vacuum cleaner scene. There have been several methods demonstrated of using two coaxial props for full directional control.

  1. When we lived in the Caribbean we just were nice to the spiders (orange crab spiders and small tarantulas the locals call donkey spiders). They kept the cockroach population in check.

    1. Spiders may be creepy, but no spider has ever done me even the slightest bit of harm, even indirectly.

      (Full disclosure: I am not Australian)

      The same can’t be said for insects. While I recognize that may insects are beneficial, especially pollinators (a hat tip to honeybees here; you ladies never deserved the fear I had for you), the fact remains that I’d much rather have spiders in my house than insects.

      1. My daughter is squeamish about centipedes.
        I’ve told her that they eat other bugs.
        If she doesn’t want centipedes, she should clean up food particles she’s left laying around.

  2. Hm. Interesting idea, yes. But is it ethical? I mean, showing the process of eradicating some living thing on screen. And on top of that, by some automated machine. In my youth, this was a real concern, still. Films had an ‘no animals were harmed in the making of this film’ in the credits. And cooking shows weren’t executing animals yet, either. Don’t get me wrong, I know these are just annoying insects. But doing these things casually to living things will make watchers/viewers insensitive on the long run. It makes them dull, nolonger valuing life. Just my school friends which played FPS like CS: Condition Zero v1.6. They will stomp on rainworms, snails, butterflies etc. without feeling a tiny bit sorry, even. I’m dead serious about this. And I’m ashamed, because nobody here even seems to have mentioned this or cares about it. :(

  3. Hackaday should NOT publish this kind of projects. It is not ethical. What would you say if this zapped ladybirds or butterflies? Killing with technology is a bridge to far. Bad bad bad!

  4. Interesting and kinda surprising how much “it isn’t ethical to use technology to kill” comments there are here.
    I’ve thought for years that something like this capable of accurately distinguishing targets is the best hope by far for targeting invasive species that are destroying native ecosystems.

    1. I have also a problem with this kind of applications. You just DO NOT use technology without a soul to kill it is a bridge too far. Anyone who thinks differently has a broken moral compass. And what is an invasive specie? It is life, you could also see humans as invasive species in this way.

      1. Invasive species evolve in one isolated ecosystem, then move to another one where they have an advantage. They can crowd out and sometimes completely eradicate native species. Killing some members of an invasive species can actually save another species from being entirely wiped from existence. Invasive species are usually brought over by humans, so this is effectively us trying to clean up our own mess.

        Pests (like cockroaches and rats) hinder *us* rather than the environment. It’s still important to get rid of them, but I suppose pest control is less appealing from an altruistic standpoint. One must recognize that suffering is a very complex philosophical concept and that different types of life don’t experience it the same way. Practically nobody has qualms about mowing lawns, but most people would agree that killing humans is unethical. Cockroaches lie somewhere between those two extremes and different people have different ideas as to exactly how much intellect a creature must have to be deserving of rights.

        Lastly, someone brought up the example of butterflies. I would argue that we don’t swat butterflies for the same reason why we don’t stomp on flowers – they have utility (in this case, as art) to us. Similarly, I don’t kill spiders and I’d expect researchers to have high potential utility to justify killing spiders than cockroaches. There isn’t really a rationale to this; people just don’t like wasting things that are useful to us, even if there’s a practically infinite supply.

      2. So an UV-light with high voltage mesh is also an immoral solution to say, flies in a restaurant kitchen or pharmaceutical manufacturing plant? All the people who keep food and medicines safe and hygienic have a broken moral compass?

  5. So, rather than simply risking a little poisoning from chemical anti-cockroach solutions, you’re now guaranteeing to burn your eyes out when the AI makes, as they inevitably sometimes do, a mistake and classifies part of your face as looking too similar to a cockroach. Is this really something you want to trust an AI to do?

    1. It’s true – the design is flawed in many ways. Firstly, in my very slightly expert opinion, if you’re going to kill something, even an insect, the means should be quick and not leave the animal injured, ever. Long range laser takes too long to kill and will inevitably cause unnecessary suffering. The correct way to build this type of machine is to create a tunnel roughly the same size as the animal and identify said animal as it crawls through said tunnel by means of cameras or whatever. On positive ID, the animal is crushed by a fast moving plate and ejected from the machine. Let’s just hope that some invading species from outer space does not come down to Planet Earth build one for humans.

  6. Cockroaches in your house are pests, that should be eliminated by any sensible means. If only AI could recognise and target bitchin moral fags… Hail to the HaD for not taking their part in the Cancel Culture this time.

  7. You would applaud to the AI for driving your uber safely in mixed human/machine traffic, but will be screaming in fear for the posibility of AI to consider part of your face being a cockroach? The help is simple: do not build tis project if you are cockroach-faced snowflake.

  8. I thought this was a solved problem ever since Edison’s telegraph operator days, when he (allegedly) taped two parallel metal strips to the floor around his desk, then applied a few batteries’ worth of voltage…

    PS bleeding heart crowd: YOU go befriend house pests if you’re so keen; as far as I’m concerned, “murder them all”, and I’ll sleep like a baby afterwards thankyouverymuch.

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