For Pest Control PMPs explore potential uses of AI technology
If you are thinking about incorporating artificial intelligence (AI) into your business, you’re in good company. As of 2019, more than 37 percent of enterprises had implemented AI in some shape or form, according to a Gartner survey. That number has skyrocketed by a whopping 270 percent since 2015.
In a press release, Gartner research vice president Chris Howard warned, “If your organization doesn’t use AI, chances are high that your competitors do and this should be a concern.”
While only a handful of pest control companies are beginning to scratch the surface of artificial intelligence, many PMPs believe it could transform the way they do business.
“Some of the newer technologies around AI are really revolutionizing the industry,” says Shannon Sked, BCE, SQF, Manager of Innovations & Continuous Improvements and Entomologist with Western Pest Services. “If we, as an industry, do not wrap our arms around this and own this, we might be left behind.”
Here are just a few areas where AI could potentially be used to enhance pest control services.
At some point, you’ve probably seen a drone zipping around the sky at a nearby park, beach, concert or other event. These lightweight, remote-control aircrafts usually feature an integrated camera. While consumers use these fun toys to capture aerial shots of landscapes and recreational activities, drones are also used for many commercial purposes.
According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), drones are quickly growing in complexity and numbers. There are currently more than 1.5 million drones registered in the U.S., including 436,836 commercial drones.
“Drones are already being studied in agricultural pest management,” Sked points out. “There are researchers in California that have begun investigating precision agricultural technologies using drones for pesticide delivery systems in strawberry crops with some really incredible results.”
She says there is also potential for drones to use visioning technology to examine leaf color and determine specific areas of pest activity in the field. “There are limitations, both in cost and logistics currently, but it is here,” she says.
As for the pest control industry, Sked believes drones could be an incredibly beneficial tool. “I think there is limitless opportunity as drone technology improves in cost and functionality in the structural and urban pest management realm,” she emphasizes. “From offering quick response, remote inspections and seeing areas of structures that we just can’t from the ground, this is going to allow our industry to offer some really impressive additions to our current suite of services.”
In the augmented reality category, smartglasses (or smart glasses) are kind of like wearable computers. These innovative tools collect data from internal or external sensors, including QR codes, computers or the cloud to display information about what the user is seeing. Some pest control companies have been experimenting with these intelligent specs, which keep getting smarter.
Cleveland Dixon, VDACS Certified Professional and owner of Holiday Termite & Pest Control in Northern Virginia, says they use smartglasses, although they are still in the infancy stage.
“When you’re just walking around a property, necessary information will pop up on your smartglasses,” he explains. Currently, Dixon says his company uses smartglasses for remote training, quality control and even tech support.
“I’ve used smartglasses for remote training because I’m able to see what my technicians are seeing in the field from my office,” he explains. “I’m able to watch everything during the service, and this also allows me to do quality control. I can watch how he is doing the service from his point of view, through his eyes.”
Because smartglasses footage can be recorded, Dixon says they can also use the technology for future training opportunities. “So, when you encounter a scenario during a service, you can deal with it in real time and also record it for future references,” he notes.
Additionally, smartglasses can come in handy when PMPs are experiencing technical difficulties. “We were having problems with a home when it came to rodents, and we were having difficulty figuring out an issue with a certain tool,” Dixon recalls. “I was able to contact the manufacturer of the product and have their technical rep download the glasses from his home and give guidance.” Thanks to the smartglasses, Dixon says they received instant professional expertise from the manufacturer remotely. “He was able to see the field in real time, and we figured out the solution by working together,” he says.
In the future, Dixon believes smartglasses will offer even more cutting-edge solutions for pest control technicians. “With geolocation and the use of technology, there could be triggers with the smartglasses,” he explains. “For instance, when the technician pulls up to the house, information could pop up based on the location, such as which stations they need to check. Or you could be looking at a particular area of the house and certain triggers allow data to appear. I could see this being a way of the future.”
Dixon points out that smartglasses also can be integrated with drones, which could be another priceless tool for pest control professionals in the future. “There is a combination between smartglasses and drones called First Person View,” Dixon says. “When you look through the smart glasses, you can actually look through the camera of the drone as if you were the pilot.”
Dixon discusses another tool PMPs could employ in the near future: AI bots. “This is when a chat box comes up and people think they’re talking to a person, but they’re actually speaking to a bot that orders a service using predictive analysis,” he explains. He believes these smart bots could significantly reduce man hours for pest control companies.
“I can only imagine that using AI bots when requesting services will reduce sales people having to go out into the field,” Dixon predicts. He foresees that when a potential customer offers their address to an AI bot, the Application Programming Interface (API) could pull information about their property from MRIS or Zillow. “So, you can offer pricing and sell the service over a chat without ever having to speak with someone,” he adds. “And it eventually would show up on a route for technician. That’s going to be next, in my opinion.”
PRECISE PEST DETECTION
Another form of AI that is already being used in some areas of the pest control industry is electronic trap monitoring. “Early technologies are showing some really impressive results,” says Sked. “Current AI systems in rodent management are helping pest management professionals see and identify issues in hard-toreach spots quicker and with more accuracy. Responses to these areas are more direct, helping to target the use of pesticides in a more sustainable manner and eliminate issues earlier in the infestation growth curve timeline.” (To learn more, see the remote trap monitoring article on page 10.)
As AI continues to mature, a wider variety of tools could allow pest control companies to offer more accurate, targeted services. “I think the next step in AI technology would be something that other pest management sectors have been doing for a while: precision solutions,” Sked predicts. “We do targeted treatments relatively well as an industry, but have been limited due to all the complexities of the environments from within which we offer services.” Because buildings and structures vary greatly, so do the specific conducive conditions of each location, she says.
“Ultimately, I believe AI will offer our industry inspection metadata information,” Sked adds. “From that metadata set for each location, PMPs will be offered insight from resulting mapping technologies that will help pinpoint where issues occur and address the root causes.” She says this will allow PMPs to offer more sustainable options to customers and rely even less on pesticides. “It will also help us eliminate infestations earlier in the curve and with a higher degree of success.”
AI TODAY AND TOMORROW: STRIKING A BALANCE
Although pest control companies are just beginning to test the waters of artificial intelligence, this technology could shape our industry’s future. AI could vastly improve pest control services, but Sked points out that these tools will never offer what PMPs bring to the table: customer service and experiential value. “It would be a miss if we weren’t at the table as the professionals explaining how this is best used,” she adds. “The success I envision with AI is an industry that takes on this new technology and offers it in a way that only our professionals can do.”
According to Sked, the pest control industry will have to walk a thin line when it comes to incorporating AI. “There is a balance that I think the pest control industry needs to measure when making decisions on this technology. If we don’t integrate this technology into our industry, we risk having it become a DIY competitor rather than the powerful tool that its designed to be, with experienced and education professionals using it for service offerings,” she suggests. “However, if we willy-nilly go out and implement it, we risk creating negative experiences on the part of our customers.”
So, how can PMPs accomplish this AI balancing act? “I would suggest that companies invest in AI by ensuring they have staff, experienced and educated in urban pest management, that becomes well trained in the technology,” Sked concludes.
BY AMY BELL