Australia unveils starfish-killing robot to protect the Great Barrier Reef

Sydney: A robot submarine able to hunt and kill the predatory crown-of-thorns starfish devastating the Great Barrier Reef was unveiled by Australian researchers on Friday. Scientists at Queensland University of Technology said the robot ‘RangerBot’ and developed with a grant from Google, would serve as a “robo reef protector” for the World Heritage site off Australia’s northeastern coast.

The robot has an eight-hour battery life and computer vision capabilities allowing it to monitor and map reef areas at scales not previously possible. Matthew Dunbabin from the QUT said, “The software will enable the robot to detect crown-of-thorns starfish, which eat coral, and instigate an injection which is fatal to the predators. The injection is harmless for other reef creatures.”

The starfish have proliferated in recent times due to pollution and agricultural runoff. The Great Barrier Reef is reeling from two straight years of bleaching as sea temperatures rise because of climate change, reports said.

World’s first underwater robotic system

 RangerBot is the world’s first underwater robotic system designed specifically for coral reef environments, using only robot-vision for real-time navigation, obstacle avoidance and complex science missions. This multi-function ocean drone can monitor a wide range of issues facing coral reefs including coral bleaching, water quality, pest species, pollution and siltation. -Matthew Dunbabin, Professor, QUT