Tech Startup Banking on Wasp-Killing Drone

Features - Technology Update

AeroPest’s precision spraying drone technology aims to generate new revenue for pest control companies while keeping workers safe.

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October 25, 2021

Employee safety remains an important concern for pest control companies and their strategies for controlling elevated pests. Wasps, hornets and other stinging insects often make their nests in hard-to-reach elevated areas, and technicians use labor-intensive tools to remove these annual pest habitats.

While multiple tools currently exist for pest control companies, they all have drawbacks that can make them unsuitable or unsafe for certain jobs. For example, bee poles seem to be an inexpensive solution, but they only work effectively for nests under 25 feet. Alternatively, ladders may give access to higher nests, but present worker safety challenges and require at least two technicians to safely operate, effectively doubling the labor cost of any individual job. Pest professionals on ladders must place themselves in immediate proximity to stinging pest nests and disperse insecticides at potentially dangerous elevated heights. When nests are above 40 feet, lifts have the most elevated reach, but are cumbersome to transport and expensive to rent.

The danger of a fall when using ladders and lifts can unfortunately prove fatal. Even in a non-fatal fall, technicians can experience broken bones, muscle tears, concussions or paralysis, all of which can temporarily or permanently disrupt their personal and professional futures. Besides the potential for loss of life, for pest control owners, these elevated falls cost companies on average $26,119, according to a 2017 PestSure study.

AeroPest is hoping to expand the use of drone technology in the pest control industry.

Not only can elevated falls increase worker compensation and insurance expenses, but with injuries comes a temporary reduction in staff and increased scheduling difficulties. These challenges create an opportunity for new technologies that effectively eliminate elevated pests while keeping these technicians safe, on the ground and away from heights.

ENTER AEROPEST. AeroPest was founded by Harrison Hertzberg, an Idaho native and Drexel University student who began the development of the international patent-pending pest-spraying drone while on his family’s rural north Idaho ranch.

“I had the idea for the AeroPest invention in the summer of 2018,” Hertzberg recalled. “One of my ranch duties was to go up on a two-story building and spray wasp nests. On a 100ºF day, I had to suit up in a snow jacket and face net to prevent being stung by wasps. After scaling the ladder I nearly fell a few times due to the steep pitch of the roof. As I sprayed the nests with a can of Raid, the excess spray dripped down the roof and created an even more slippery surface. It wasn’t a fun experience.”

Current elevated pest control methods pose a plethora of dangers to pest control technicians. “After completing the job, I knew there had to be a safer way to eliminate wasps,” Hertzberg said. “My research found that even pest control professionals use the same methods: ladders and, occasionally, bee suits.” Many pest control technicians face similar dilemmas when using various available equipment and understand the risks that accompany elevated pest management.

Hertzberg also claims that future trends in living habits and technology will create an environment even more suitable for utilizing drones in pest control services. “The unserved need in elevated pest control became increasingly clear after my research and discussions with experts revealed that the future is going to have more of three things: urbanization, pests and drones,” said Hertzberg. “Two-thirds of the world’s population is projected to live in cities by 2050; pest populations are rising with increased temperatures; and the drone industry is projected to be worth half a trillion dollars by 2028. A market need for drone-based precision pest control appears to be growing.”

Hertzberg added fellow Drexel students Daniel Chester-Ziv and Eric Nguyen to the AeroPest team, which successfully funded its growth solely through wins at a multitude of collegiate startup competitions. AeroPest also has added knowledgeable industry professionals as advisers and mentors. This funding has allowed Hertzberg to protect his patenting-pending invention internationally.

AeroPest has developed a working prototype of its precision spraying drone, The Hummingbird. Technicians operate the spraying drone, directing it towards elevated pest nests via a remote controller from a safe distance. The Hummingbird utilizes AeroPest’s interchangeable aerosol cans to provide the spraying system with insecticide. The pole and articulating nozzle can be adjusted by the user to accommodate any needed spraying angle, increasing access to difficult-to-reach areas such as under eaves and into crevices. Hertzberg attributes these focuses to his many discussions with pest control professionals and owners — including NPMA leadership and NPMA technical staff — about their needs.

BENEFITS. Through this product, the AeroPest team hopes to realize the following benefits for users of this new pest management technology:

New revenue. If professionals are unable to reach a wasp nest due to lack of suitable equipment or an unacceptable risk due to height, they likely will deny the service to the customer and create an opportunity for their competition to intervene. With the newfound ability to reach these elevated pests, AeroPest users also will have improved negotiating power to win various residential, commercial, industrial and municipal contracts.

While servicing existing customers, new opportunities are possible with drones as previously unreachable elevated pests are now within reach. Customers can be upsold on drone services with aerial technology commanding an increased price tag for the spraying service. By integrating AeroPest into its range of services, a pest control company opens its doors to new customers, contracts and paying opportunities.

Safety is a concern for service technicians performing elevated pest control.
Crofters Pest Control (left), Homemaking.com (middle), Orkin (right)

Many pest control companies have a clientele that requires the spraying of elevated pests such as wasps, hornets, yellow jackets, stinging insects, moths, spiders and other pests. Architectures that can feature an abundance of elevated pests include hotels, residential condominiums, stadium lights, bridges, traffic lights, amusement parks, superstores, skyscrapers, green roofs, ships and monuments — all large structures with potentially lucrative service opportunities.

Increased safety and technician benefits. Technicians understandably do not want to take the chance of controlling an elevated pest if it will put them at risk of injury or death. By using AeroPest’s risk-averse product, pest control professionals can now avoid close contact with their target pest. Additionally, AeroPest’s product removes the primary problem of placing the technician in the unstable situation of ascending or descending a ladder, or traversing a rooftop. Furthermore, a technician remotely controlling a drone is no longer in proximity to pesticides and also is not being weighed down by protective gear. The likelihood of injury on the job, therefore, can be significantly reduced.

In addition to increased on-site safety, pest management technicians may appreciate increased job and promotion opportunities, including positions such as UAV pilot and aerial exterminator. An emboldened self-image may assist with employee morale and also elevate the public’s perception of the pest control industry. These self-impression advancements may serve to decrease employee turnover and provide an improved internal and external attitude toward pest control work.

Keeping customers. When a service technician employs drone-based spraying, a customer may feel he or she is paying for and receiving a professional and highly technical service provided by an FAA- certified technician using state-of-the-art aerial equipment. In addition, AeroPest technology may keep a customer returning to the same pest management company. If a customer feels that service was ineffective because of old technology leaving unreachable pest nests on their building, they likely will feel that their needs were not met. This could result in the customer calling another service provider for future jobs, in which case a valued customer may be lost.

Simplicity. While any new technology may be intimidating for a new user, The Hummingbird is designed with flexibility and ease-of-use in mind. A training program with videos and optional in-person training services is being developed by AeroPest. The team also will offer a service to assist with the required FAA licensing paperwork for the pest management customer.