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Rentokil uses AI rat recognition to plot extermination in real time

You know where they eat, where they sleep, where they live... then figure out how to whack them

One of the applications science fiction has found for AI is pest control – sometimes cute, sometimes extremely violent – and the direction of travel suggests we are moving into the realms of science fact.

Last year The Register covered how engineering academics gave a laser beam machine vision and trained it to hunt cockroaches – an end-to-end extermination solution. Now Rentokil is getting in on the act, though its focus is bigger and furrier.

No, the world's biggest pest control company isn't unleashing killer robots into crawl spaces and sewers near you (not yet anyway), but it is planting cameras and using machine vision to analyze rat populations in real time at a "central command center" to decide the best way to dispatch them.

This follows a spate of technology acquisitions, including Israel's Eitan Amichai at the end of last year, which "substantially bolstered its global capabilities in the remote monitoring segment of commercial pest control." The system is now being piloted among food producers and offices.

Rentokil CEO Andy Ransom told the Financial Times: "With facial recognition technology you can see that rat number one behaved differently from rat number three.

"And the technology will always identify which rat has come back, where are they feeding, where are they sleeping, who's causing the damage, which part of the building are they coming from, where are they getting into the building from, whether it's the same rodent that caused the problem last week."

As humans subjected to facial recognition on a daily basis, it's enough to make one sympathize for the little plague wielders. Not only have they lost their privacy (not that they know or care), but the data gathered is being used against them.

As we all know, while facial recognition can be convenient and have beneficial applications, it can also be used for serious evil against people as well as rodents.

In any case, Rentokil's share price has risen more than 60 percent over the past five years and leadership expects the market to ride out the current climate without trouble.

"I've never heard of a customer that says, 'I'm going to wait until the economic environment improves to deal with a rat that's running round my kitchen'," Ransom told the FT. "It ain't that kind of business. We provide a critical service."

UK-based Rentokil's eye is now turning to businesses in Indonesia, China, India and Latin America. It expanded into the US last year too with the $6.7 billion acquisition of Terminix.

"If you can identify which cities are going to have a massive influx of population," Ransom said, "you can pretty much conclude that they're going to have significant rodent problems." ®

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