There’s an army of hideous spike-covered creatures, each with 21 arms, looking to destroy Australia. Well, army might be a bit of an exaggeration, and it’s not like they’re actively trying to destroy Australia, and the aforementioned hideous creatures are actually starfish. But these starfish do pose a real threat to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, and the island is hoping to use robots to solve the problem.
The Crown-of-Thorns starfish population surrounding Australia has grown significantly in the past few years. Now these starfish aren’t your everyday, run-of-the-mill, 5-legged, cute, little starfish that you would paint on a nursery wall, or keep on your shelf as a souvenir after a trip to the beach. The Crown-of-Thorns starfish looks like it was plucked out of an evil spaceman’s garden and, unlike other starfish, eats live coral.
These starfish can do heavy damage and even kill live coral. According to an NBC report, the Crown-of-Thorns starfish is responsible for 40 percent of the Great Barrier Reef’s coral loss. The Great Barrier Reef is important to the people of the region for spiritual, cultural and economic reasons. Tourism is integral to the region’s economy as, and visitors to the Great Barrier Reef generate over $3 billion per year.
Since the Great Barrier Reef is so important, no plan to save it is too elaborate, even if it seems too elaborate. A team from Australia’s Queensland University of Technology have devised a plan to save the reef which includes automated robots that seek out the Crown-of-Thorns starfish and destroy them by injecting them with bile salts.
The submersible robots, which they’re calling COTSbots, will cruise a couple of feet above the reef scanning for starfish using cameras and a computer vision program. Once the robots have positively identified one of the starfish, they give the sinister looking echinoderms a lethal injection of salt, which is poisonous to the starfish.
Robots are being used in new and exciting ways every day. As robotics and automation technologies continue to advance, their uses and applications will continue to get more sophisticated and more impressive.