Australian Scientists Build Starfish Killing Robot

Posted on September 4, 2015

COTSbot, a starfish killing robot

Roboticists at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) have developed a robot that can locate and destroy starfish. The robot, called COTSbot, will locate and destroy crown-of-thorns starfish (COTS) in the Great Barrier Reef. Scientists say these starfish are responsible for about 40% of the reef's total decline in coral cover.

COTSbot is equipped with stereoscopic cameras to give it depth perception, five thrusters to maintain stability, GPS and pitch-and-roll sensors. It also has a unique pneumatic injection arm to deliver a fatal dose of bile salts to crown-of-thorns starfish. A COTSbot can search the reef for eight hours at a time and deliver up to 200 lethal shots to starfish.

Dr Matthew Dunbabin from QUT's Institute for Future Environments, says in a statement, "Human divers are doing an incredible job of eradicating this starfish from targeted sites but there just aren't enough divers to cover all the COTS hotspots across the Great Barrier Reef. We see the COTSbot as a first responder for ongoing eradication programs - deployed to eliminate the bulk of COTS in any area, with divers following a few days later to hit the remaining COTS. The COTSbot becomes a real force multiplier for the eradication process the more of them you deploy - imagine how much ground the programs could cover with a fleet of 10 or 100 COTSbots at their disposal, robots that can work day and night and in any weather condition."

The QUT roboticists will take COTSbot to the Great Barrier Reef later this month to trial it on living targets. In the trail, a human will verify each COTS identification the robot makes before the robot is allowed to inject it and terminate it. Here is a video showing the COTSbot locating a crown-of-thorns starfish for possible annihilation. Take a look:

Photo: Queensland University of Technology

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