Scientists Begin Developing Robot For Protecting Corel Reefs

Posted: Aug 28 2018, 12:22pm CDT | by , Updated: Aug 28 2018, 2:54pm CDT, in Latest Science News


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Scientists Begin Developing Robot for Protecting Corel Reefs
A close-view of the lionfish harvesting robot. Credit: Worcester Polytechnic Institute

The robot is designed to autonomously hunt for invasive lionfish that threatens coral reefs and their biodiversity.

Coral reefs cover less than one percent of the ocean's surface and support more than a quarter of all marine species. However, these diverse ecosystems are in rapid decline worldwide. Globally, they are threatened by warming temperatures and ocean acidification. But local factors, such as invasive species also pose a serious risk to their biodiversity.

An invasive, non-native predator with poisonous spines, the lionfish is wreaking havoc on coral reef systems in the Caribbean and US coasts for years. Lionfish, which is originally found in South Pacific and Indian oceans, is now a permanent resident on many other coral reefs and preys upon smaller fish species. Their presence indicates an uncertain future for fish species and overall biodiversity of coral reef systems.

Defying the invasion of this voracious predator, researchers are building an autonomous underwater robot. The robot will hunt for lionfish and aims to reduce the population of this invasive species. The new robot will not only maintain the natural balance of the reef systems but could also provide a new source of income for local fishermen.

“There are economic and environmental benefits to this, and the fish are delicious,” said Brandon Kelly from Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), who focused on the robot’s computer vision system. “I’ve seen the massive devastation caused by these fish and it really made me want to work on this project. We felt like we could create some change in the world.”

The new robot contains several spear tips that are placed on its carousel. It also has cameras and electronics chamber on its body. The most interesting thing about the robot is its computer vision system, which can distinguish lionfish from the other fish species and capture them. With the help of machine learning, advanced computer vision libraries and computer vision models, the robot can recognize a lionfish with more than 95 percent accuracy. Unlike many other commercial robots, the WPI robot would hunt for fish on its own, without human assistance. It will offer a more efficient and safe way to harvest the lionfish, which is known for its venomous spines.

“The goal is to be able to toss the robot over the side of a boat and have it go down to the reef, plot out a course, and begin its search,” said Craig Putnam, a senior instructor in computer science at WPI. “It needs to set up a search pattern and fly along the reef, and not run into it while looking for the lionfish. The idea is that the robots could be part of the environmental solution.”

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/47" rel="author">Hira Bashir</a>
The latest discoveries in science are the passion of Hira Bashir (). With years of experience, she is able to spot the most interesting new achievements of scientists around the world and cover them in easy to understand reporting.




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