Rentokil takes on the world’s rat problem with facial recognition

You’re never more than 6ft away from a rat in a big city, according to the adage. Now, the world’s biggest pest control group is planning to annihilate the pesky rodents by using facial recognition to track their habits.

Rentokil said its surveillance service, which live streams video of the vermin to its “central command centre” for real-time analysis using artificial intelligence, can help decide where and how to hunt the fast-breeding undesirables.

The UK-based group acquired the technology in a spree of hundreds of deals that has boosted its pest control capabilities.

Andy Ransom, chief executive, said the purchase in December of Israeli market leader Eitan Amichai had brought Rentokil “significant technology”, boosting a system being piloted by customers from food producers to offices.

“With facial recognition technology you can see that rat number one behaved differently from rat number three,” Ransom told the Financial Times.

“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.”

Rentokil has been developing facial recognition for several years but Ransom said the Israeli acquisition “brings us the next generation of technology”.

The company is seeking to extend a run of 300 acquisitions since 2016, targeting businesses in “cities of the future” in nations where pest populations are most likely to surge, such as Indonesia, China, India and Latin America.

“If you can identify which cities are going to have a massive influx of population, you can pretty much conclude that they’re going to have significant rodent problems,” he said.

The company’s play for cities such as Jakarta forms part of its growth strategy.

It is also expanding further into America with the acquisition last year of US-based extermination group Terminix for an enterprise value of $5.4bn.

Rentokil’s share price has risen more than 60 per cent over the past five years and its leadership is confident that the pest control market will remain resilient despite economic headwinds.

Ransom highlighted “two quotes that I often come out with” — “the pest control industry is biblical in nature” and “the rats don’t read the FT”.

“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’,” he said. “It ain’t that kind of business. We provide a critical service.”

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