How this Singaporean startup built smart pest control

By UnaBiz

Interview with Derek Tong, General Manager at Ratsense.

Prevention is better than cure, they say. That’s all very well, but it’s not always possible.

Pest control officers would know. “Prevention, although it's the first and key line of defence, has never been properly sustained” in the pest control industry, says Derek Tong, General Manager of startup Ratsense. Pest control operations are often reactive, as countermeasures only begin after a problem becomes too big to be ignored.

Tech can allow pest control teams to be one step ahead of the pesky creatures. Ratsense, one of the top finalists for OCBC Emerging Enterprise Awards 2019, uses motion sensors to detect rodents early and provide insight for carrying out targeted, more efficient control. Tong shares how tech has been an “enabler” in ensuring public health and sanitation.

Ratting the rodents out

Typically, pest control operations are “very reactive”, explains Tong. “Generally, pest control is seen as a ‘problem solver’, whose services are procured when pest issues arise.” The company would usually inspect the area, place traps and then hope for the best.

Instead, Ratsense installs infrared motion sensors throughout the premises to monitor rodent activity. This helps owners understand “exactly what is happening in the unseen spaces of their building” in real time, says Tong.

Teams can then focus pest control efforts on where the rodents are active, saving on time and resources. The system allows remote detection, which means owners can detect problems early. Companies can increase productivity by targeting specific areas, rather than combing through all the nooks and crannies within the building.

These savings go a long way in a small nation like Singapore. “Manpower is really scarce for us,” notes Tong. It’s also more important now in light of the pandemic, where companies are looking for ways to reduce human intervention and on-site work, he adds.

On top of pinpointing where there is rodent activity, Ratsense’s system analyses the data to identify patterns over time. This allows pest control teams to take predictive measures.

For instance, the system found that rodent activity increases during rainy seasons, as the rats run indoors for shelter, notes Tong. Knowing this, building owners can step up preventive measures in October or November to prepare for the rains in December.

The tech

How does Ratsense achieve this? Tong explains the tech that sets them apart.

Their IoT devices use low-power wide-area networks (LPWAN) which are more suited for remote sensors than Wi-Fi. These networks have deeper penetration and wider coverage, so the sensors can be used both indoors and outdoors, Tong points out. Wi-Fi can be problematic outdoors, where it can be tricky to find power sources for routers.

LPWAN devices are easier to install as they are super light-weight and, unlike Wi-Fi, they do not require existing infrastructure, says Tong. Customers can start using the IoT system immediately.

The network technology is provided by IoT company UnaBiz, the operator of Sigfox global network in Singapore and Taiwan. UnaBiz’s “networking as a service” model frees Ratsense from the need to manage additional network infrastructure hardware. UnaBiz first introduced Ratsense to the world of LPWAN two years ago and has since expanded its footprint across Australia, New Zealand and France.

Ratsense’s system can be integrated into their clients’ building management systems, so building owners can see all the information in one place. “This will in turn allow for smarter decision making across the various interconnected areas of the building,” says Tong.

What’s next?

The Singaporean startup is eager to make its mark on the global map, but it is first thinking about how to give back to home. “We want to play a small part in the government’s initiatives in making [Singapore] a smart city and increasing productivity,” Tong says.

Pest control is an important element in the nation’s hygiene strategy, which it has strengthened in the times of the Covid-19 pandemic. The National Environment Agency has launched the SG Clean quality mark, a certificate that shows a premise’s commitment to high cleanliness standards. Businesses have to abide by a set of sanitation checklists, which include having a pest control management system in place.

Besides, Singapore is keenly aware of the potential that sensors have in keeping the nation clean and green. The National Environment Agency currently uses sensors to monitor how full public rubbish bins are and the cleaning performance of mechanical sweepers.

RatSense is looking to support this by expanding their services. “Our governing agency for the environment would be handling not just rodent threats, but other kinds of pests,” he points out. The company has ramped up R&D efforts over the years, and is already looking into developing systems for other pests like mosquitoes and termites.

In the war against rodents, knowing the enemy and their movements is key. Pest control operators need to gather intelligence and understand the situation before they send troops out, says Tong. Ratsense is confident that IoT sensors and data analysis will pave the path to victory in rodent control. The battle is on.