We joke around a lot about bringing about a horrific robot apocalypse, but let's get real: sometimes, building a killer robot is just the right thing to do. Well, at least when those robots are being used to cull invasive species. Researchers at Robots In Service of the Environment (RISE) are developing a robot to fight an invasive population of Lionfish that's threatening ecosystems off the coast of Florida as well as in the Caribbean and Bermuda. Creating a robot to exterminate a specific species sounds a bit harsh, but it's an environmental issue: the Lionfish population in question isn't native to Caribbean waters, and are don't register as predators to the local wildlife. By decimating the area's food supply, the voracious carnivores are killing coral reef systems and starving other species.
Lionfish are threats to not only fragile coral reef ecosystems, but the divers who keep them in check. They not only take advantage of unsuspecting fish populations, but carry poisonous spines that make them challenging to catch. Student researchers at Worcester Polytechnic Institute may have a solution: robotic guardians. They've crafted an autonomous robot (below) that can hunt lionfish without requiring a tethered operator that could harm the reefs. The bot attaches to an existing submersible robot and relies on computer vision (trained with thousands of photos) to spot examples of the invasive species and jab them with one of its eight spears.
Undoing man's folly is, sometimes, a robot's work. Unwittingly introduced to the Atlantic Ocean over a quarter of a century ago, the lionfish, which is native to the Pacific, is responsible for an ecological disaster of epic proportions in the Caribbean, Bermuda's, and off the shore of Florida coast, and it's spreading up the coast. A complete lack of predators, voracious appetite and ability to reproduce at an astonishing rate has resulted in a mushrooming lionfish population that is decimating ecosystems, coral reefs and the fishing business. SEE ALSO: A fish that doesn't belong is wreaking havoc on our ocean Catching and eating lionfish, which are delicious, sounds like a reasonable solution, but the fish can't be netted, and are generally fished one person and one spear at a time. If fisherman can't catch lionfish en masse, they can't sell them at quantities to food stores and restaurants.
This 3D rendering of a lionfish harvester robot was developed by Robotics in Service of the Environment (RISE). The prototype uses a robot arm with two metal electrodes on the end to electrocute invasive lionfish, which are then collected in a central chamber for use as food. The America's Cup sailing race kicked off this week in Bermuda, but a month ago, a different type of competition was held in the island's lucid waters. It was a contest that pitted chef against chef and robot against beast. Last August, NewsHour broke the story of a robot being developed to stop lionfish, an invasive species that has decimated Atlantic coral reef ecosystems due to their insatiable appetites for other fish.
YASMEEN QURESHI: Florida's southern coast is one of the most popular dive spots in the world -- home to the only tropical coral reef in continental United States. Hundreds of species of fish live along this reef system. But the fish here are in danger, because of a foreign predator that's been devouring them: lionfish. YASMEEN QURESHI: Eric Nelson is an avid scuba diver who hunts lionfish up to a hundred and thirty feet below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean. ERIC NELSON: They can eat 90 percent of their body weight, everyday, in fish.