When construction work troubled a pack of rats near his commercial kitchen trade in County Wicklow, Ireland, Shane Bonner knew he needed a smarter approach to pest control.
His current contract, which used a basic bait box and consistent site inspections, was failing at Newmarket Kitchen, a hired facility shared by 17 food producers, and giving the incorrect impression.
“It’s not great trade having pest controllers on-site regularly – people think there’s a problem instead of an inspection; and more we found they were either around when not wanted or if there was an issue, the response wasn’t quick enough,” says the entrepreneur.
“If an animal was trapped (in the setup) we also had no hint how long it had been there, or how or when it came into the building – which disturbs our peace of mind when managing a food business.”
So he chose a more hi-tech approach.
Pest Pulse traps employ pressure sensor technology to detect a catch and notify the company straight away over the internet.
Pest Pulse is only one of many businesses eyeing to disrupt an industry cost £463m and $13.9bn (£10.6bn) annually, in the UK and the US correspondingly.
“By knowing precisely when something was caught you can then begin to look at the bigger picture by checking cameras to see if one of the loading area doors was left open,” says Mr Bonner.
“It also signifies our annual pest management charge has reduced by 20% because we’re not paying for the labour engaged in the usual service, and we don’t have people coming around needlessly.”
Tim O’Toole, who co-founded Pest Pulse after working at eBay and Google, believes the renovation is long outstanding in an industry he describes as “reactive, rudimentary and caught in 1987”.
“All other compliance-based industries, for instance, food storage using smart fridges, have accepted the IoT [internet of things]. But with pest administration we still had a guy checking a box in the crook every 12 weeks and penning the result down on a piece of paper which isn’t decent enough – rats can grow very fast.
“We’ve got increasing levels of infestation so traditional pest control agreements are having to escalate the number of visits from controllers – extra labour costs that will be passed onto the customer,” he says.
“More on, we’re seeing much stricter legislation on the use of biocides [poisons]. Gradually, its use has to be based on proof of infestation. So a cost-effective, aimed, tech-led approach with lessened environmental impact becomes much more significant.”
But what if the plague is harder to find?
Thermal imaging cameras have become a popular instrument to identify pests at night or in floors, cavity walls, floors and roofs, lighting their outline and isolating the source for quicker, efficient removal.
Pest controller Thomas Bonny in Noyers, France, became conscious of the technology’s potential in his earlier role as a firefighter where it was employed to improve the view in dense smoke. Using a solution from US manufacturer, FLIR systems, the camera has converted how he removes wasp nests, by cutting time and costs.
“In the past, we depended on sound instead of sight to find a nest, but locating this feeble noise can be very difficult and time-consuming,” he says.
“For a single check, a thermal imager can save you one or more hours depending on how hard it is to reach. But it also lets you to quickly find the exact spot of the nest, which means that you only do the least required damage. There is no need to tear out entire walls or ceilings to find the exact location.”
It describes the growth of thermal imaging in the hotel segment, where the need to spot bedbugs the dimension of an apple seed, is a growing problem. Here, the impact of severe pesticide controls is making it harder to eliminate bed bugs – disturbing hotels’ names and their profits.
A 2016 study by pest control company, Orkin, of US hotels discovered that eight of 10 had dealt with an infestation over the preceding year, with the typical cost per outbreak of $6,383 in substitute of soft-goods, treatment and lost business.
The traditional dependence on meticulous housekeeping is no longer cutting it, says Robert Fryers, the chief director of Spotta, a Cambridge-based business which has made a more advanced way of fighting such infestations.
Invented by entomologists, the Spotta pod is located in the bedbug’s sweet spot between the mattress and bedframe, the pod holds a synthetic pheromone that attracts the insects into the trap commonly within hours of their arrival.
“Bedbugs have always been a challenge for hotels but with climate change and the increase in international travel from warm countries, it has become much damaging – though it isn’t talked about much in the industry.
“Factually, hotels could only deal with this reactively, when a guest criticised, and by that point, the harm is done,” says Mr Fryers.
Algorithm analysis classifies the insect, differentiating between a carbon beetle, tropical bedbug, or silverfish and a camera takes a picture with all information emailed to the hotel. The substances of the pod are then closed in and given back to Spotta’s laboratory for sterilization.
“People think these bugs are down to a hotel’s poor hygiene. But they are carried in by people from their bags and clothes, which is why we’re finding the greatest grip with city and airport hotels that have a high turnover of global guests,” says Mr Fryers.
“In the US, lawsuits and compensation claims on the issue are becoming more predominant. Hotels need to be able to prove they are doing everything they can.”
So while it might seem costly to employ hi-tech pest control, it could save some even larger legal bills.