Starfish-Killing Robot To Save The Great Barrier Reef

In a world-first, the robot will battle an overpopulation of crown-of-thorns starfish

Roboticists at the Queensland University Of Technology have developed a robot to seek and destroy crown-of-thorns starfish (COTS) which are responsible for a substantial decline in the Great Barrier Reef’s coral cover.

The robot’s creator, Dr Matthew Dunbabin, said the COTSbot was equipped with stereoscopic cameras to give it depth perception, five thrusters to maintain stability, GPS and pitch-and-roll sensors and a unique pneumatic injection arm to deliver a fatal dose of bile salts.

"Human divers are doing an incredible job of eradicating this starfish from targeted sites but there just aren't enough divers to cover all the COTS hotspots across the Great Barrier Reef,"

"We see the COTSbot as a first responder for ongoing eradication programs - deployed to eliminate the bulk of COTS in any area, with divers following a few days later to hit the remaining COTS.”

Photo credit: Queensland University of Technology 

The robot is capable of searching the reef for as long as eight hours at a time and can deliver more than 200 lethal shots to starfish.

Using images and videos of the reef, scientists have been able to train the COTSbot to recognise the crown-of-thorns starfish among the coral.

Dr Feras Dayoub, who designed the COTS-detecting software, said “its computer system is backed by some serious computational power so COTSbot can think for itself in the water.

“If the robot is unsure that something is actually a COTS, it takes a photo of the object to be later verified by a human, and that human feedback is incorporated into the robot's memory bank.”

"We've now trained the robot using thousands of images of COTS collected on the reef and the system is proving itself incredibly robust at detecting the COTS.”

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