Underwater Drones to Safeguard Coral Reefs


Australia’s Queensland University of Technology (QUT) has come up with a world’s first autonomous robot, COTSBot that can seek and kill the crown-of-thorns starfish (COTS).  These COTS are posing as a threat to world’s coral reefs.


Matthew Dunbabin and Feras Dayoub, Doctors at Australia’s Queensland University of Technology (QUT), have conceived COTSBot drone patrols.  These drones will control the Great Barrier Reef’s crown-of-thorns starfish (COTS), which are responsible for an estimated 40 percent of the reef’s total decline in coral cover.  The drones will take the position at a foot or two off the seafloor and is furnished with stereoscopic cameras to give it depth perception.  The drone can patrol for up to eight hours and would be equipped with five thrusters to uphold stability and a GPS system.  When this drone meets its target, the COTSBot injects it with a fatal dose of bile salts using a syringe.  The robot is capable of injecting more than 200 lethal shots of bile, which are harmless to everything else on the reef.

Dr. Dunbabin shared that human divers are good enough to eradicate these starfish from targeted sites.  But they have fewer divers to cover all the COTS hotspots across the Great Barrier Reef.  Dunbabin is planning to use COTSBot as a first responder for ongoing eradication programs followed by human divers following a few days later to hit the remaining ones.  The COTS population has exploded recently due to overfishing of the marine life that eats them.

The COTSBot has cutting edge over other drones with respect to its ability to learn.  The robot has been trained to identify COTS by using thousands of images of COTS collected on the reef.  Still, if they are not sure about something that is a COTS or not, it is programmed to take a photo of the object rather than injecting it.  This photo would reach the control center for human intervention, and the feedback will be incorporated into the robot’s memory.

The COTSBot has completed its first sea trials in Queensland’s Moreton Bay.  The test has certified the working of its mechanical parts and navigation system.  COTSBot is expected to autonomously begin its work in the reef in December.

Source: QUT