Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Robots to the Rescue of Great Barrier Reef, Searching and Destroying Star Fish

A Starfish-Killing, Artificially Intelligent Robot Is Set to Patrol the Great Barrier Reef

Crown of thorns starfish are destroying the reef. Bots that wield poison could dampen the invasion
The Great Barrier Reef will have a robotic protector beginning this winter. The underwater autonomous vehicle is programmed to patrol the massive living structure in search of destructive crown-of-thorns starfish (COTS), which it then kills by lethal injection. These starfish prey on coral polyps, and although they are native to the reef, their population has exploded in the past few years, possibly because of overfishing of their natural predators. The latest report from Australia's Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority places the venomous invertebrates alongside climate change and human activity as a significant threat to the reef, which lost half its coral cover between 1985 and 2012.

COTSbot, developed by robotics researchers at Queensland University of Technology in Australia, could help slow the starfish's invasion. Artificially intelligent, it correctly identified its target 99.4 percent of the time in laboratory tests. “It's now so good it even ignores our 3-D-printed decoys and targets only live starfish,” Queensland's Matthew Dunbabin says. A fleet of COTSbots could supplement the efforts of human divers who currently remove or poison the sea stars by hand and could operate during bad weather or high currents. They could also be useful at night when starfish are more active but swimming is prohibited..."

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