The robot apocalypse has arrived ... if you happen to be a starfish. Queensland University of Technology researchers have created a killer robot with the singular purpose of seeking out and terminating crown-of-thorns starfish, reports Techie News.
Why target these poor, innocent starfish? Well, the truth is that they aren't so innocent. When crown-of-thorns starfish population densities are under control, these beautiful creatures play a balanced role in the ecosystem of the Great Barrier Reef. But when their population booms, they can quickly become a plague, consuming coral reefs — their favorite food — with a frenzied fervor.
Unfortunately, such population booms have been happening more and more frequently along the Great Barrier Reef over the last several decades. The problem has become so ubiquitous that scientists now believe that crown-of-thorns starfish are responsible for an estimated 40 percent of the Great Barrier Reef’s total decline in coral cover.
The robot, called COTSbot (short for Crown-of-Thorns Starfish robot), is a Terminator-esque killing machine. It is designed to hunt down crown-of-thorns starfish and inject them with a lethal brew of bile salts. It is capable of diving for as long as eight hours in order to deliver its poisonous mixture to as many as 200 starfish. Equipped with stereoscopic cameras for depth perception, five thrusters for stability, GPS and pitch-and-roll sensors, as well as a unique pneumatic injection arm, it is an efficient executioner. The only thing missing is an audio track proclaiming "Hasta la vista, baby" each time it vanquishes a starfish.
Researchers hope that by releasing a fleet of COTSbots they might restore some balance to the fragile ecology of the Great Barrier Reef, which is already under threat from pollution, tourism, coastal development and global warming.
The bots are autonomous, meaning they are capable of acting independently. For this reason especially, researchers want to make sure they are intelligent enough to identify crown-of-thorns starfish accurately. The last thing the reef needs is a fleet of assassin machines indiscriminately killing the wrong starfish species or other creatures that are healthy contributors to the ecosystem.
So COTSbot's advanced computer vision and learning algorithm allow it to learn to target crown-of-thorns starfish more accurately. If for any reason the system struggles to identify its target, it can also record images and send them to researchers for visual confirmation.
The plan is for COTSbot to field trip to the Great Barrier Reef later this month where it will be involved in a trial with live targets. If all goes according to plan, a whole fleet of COTSbots could begin patrolling the Great Barrier Reef by December, 2015.