News

August 31, 2018

Robot drone could protect Great Barrier Reef by killing crown-of-thorns starfish

News Source: The Guardian

An underwater drone that can keep watch over the Great Barrier Reef’s health and kill invading species is ready to be put to the test.

Researchers from Queensland University of Technology say their robot reef protector can monitor coral bleaching, water quality, pest species, pollution and sediment buildup.

It has also been trained to detect crown-of-thorns starfish with 99% accuracy and can inject the coral-eating starfish with vinegar or bile salts, both deadly to the invasive predator.

Professor Matthew Dunbabin said RangerBot was not only autonomous but could also stay under water three times longer than a human diver and operate in all weather conditions.

“It’s an impressive piece of technology, [it’s] also deliberately low cost to allow production to be scaled up once the next level of operational testing is completed and all the necessary approvals are in place,” he said on Friday.

Dunbabin said the team hoped to eventually launch the drones up the length of the 2,300-kilometre long reef.

He said the robot was fitted with real-time guidance so it can avoid obstacles by moving in any direction.

Great Barrier Reef Foundation managing director Anna Marsden said the robot could become an extra pair of eyes and hands for frontline staff managing the reef.

“Due to [the reef’s] size and complexity, effective management is a mammoth and expensive task,” she said.

RangerBot is a collaboration between QUT, Google and the Great Barrier ReefFoundation.