Scientists Design Killer Robot To Protect Celebrated Reef

A killer robot might just be the hero the Great Barrier Reef needs to protect it from a booming population of coral-eating creatures.

As the crown-of-thorns starfish (COTS) ravages the famed Australian reef, a team of researchers has designed a search-and-destroy bot to deliver lethal injections and bring the COTS population back down to a manageable level.

Researchers at the Queensland University of Technology later this month will send their so-called COTSbot on its first hunt for live starfish at the reef. If successful, the robot could replace human divers as the first line of defense for controlling COTS outbreaks and, when deployed in fleets of 10 to 100, could cover more ground — day or night and under any weather conditions — than the divers who are sent to manually inject the starfish.

The submersible robot uses a combination of cameras, GPS, sensors and thrusters, along with starfish-detecting software, to identify the COTS among the coral. Once it finds its target, the COTSbot uses an extendable arm to reach down and deliver a single injection of bile salts, which should kill the starfish without harming the surrounding reef’s fragile environment. The robot is designed to search the reef for up to eight hours at a time and can deliver more than 200 lethal injections, one per starfish.

Feras Dayoub, a roboticist at the university who designed the software, spent months training the COTSbot to differentiate between these particular starfish and other sea life by showing it images and videos of the reef.

“The system has seen thousands of images of COTS and not COTS,” Dayoub told the Australian Broadcasting Company. “Now it’s able to detect and decide which one is COTS —> Read More