Robo reef protector

A fleet of autonomous robots is being developed by Queensland scientists to kill crown-of-thorns starfish (COTS), and monitor the health of the Great Barrier Reef.

Dr Matthew Dunbabin and Dr Feras Dayoub of QUT are working with the Great Barrier Reef Foundation to create the RangerBot, following successful field trials of QUT’s COTSBot in 2016.

RangerBot, a lower-cost version of COTSBot, will be used to monitor coral health, water quality and temperature, pest species, pollution and silt. It received the $750,000 People’s Choice award in the 2016 Google Impact Challenge Australia.

COTSBot has an inbuilt injection system to deliver a fatal dose of bile salts into crown-of-thorns, using machine learning to identify and inject the starfish. Crown-of-thorns are thought to be responsible for 40 per cent of total coral cover decline on the Reef. The robot was designed to sweep an area for all but the most hard-to-access starfish, which specialist human divers pick up.

RangerBot will be smaller than COTSBot and have a set of vision-based sensors and attachments for its monitoring activities.

Unlike current single-purpose marine robots—which are manually operated, expensive, and use acoustic technologies—it will be built using only vision-based technologies.

The RangerBot will be designed to stay underwater almost three times longer than a human diver, be capable of working day and night and travelling up to 14 times further than divers.

Dr Feras Dayoub, Dr Matthew Dunbabin, Professor Peter Corke with the COTSBot. Credit: Sonja de Sterke, QUT

Banner image credit: Richard Fitzpatrick for QUT