Science & Hi-Tech

The underwater killer robot that can identify and hunt invasive lionfish to save coral reefs

Scientists have developed a spear-wielding submersible robot to hunt invasive lionfish in the western Atlantic Ocean. Its computer vision system relies on machine learning to distinguish lionfish from other marine life
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Scientists have developed a spear-wielding submersible robot to hunt invasive lionfish in the western Atlantic Ocean.

The fish have become a major problem in the waters off the coastal US and Caribbean islands; originally from the South Pacific and Indian oceans, lionfish have no natural predators in the area and are now out-competing native species.

Researchers are now hoping an autonomous robot can help solve the problem by weeding out the lionfish and harvesting them without causing further damage to struggling coral reefs.

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Scientists have developed a spear-wielding submersible robot to hunt invasive lionfish in the western Atlantic Ocean. Its computer vision system relies on machine learning to distinguish lionfish from other marine life

Scientists have developed a spear-wielding submersible robot to hunt invasive lionfish in the western Atlantic Ocean. Its computer vision system relies on machine learning to distinguish lionfish from other marine life

‘There are economic and environmental benefits to this, and the fish are delicious,’ says Brandon Kelly, an undergraduate student at Worcester Polytechnic Institute who developed the robot’s computer vision system.

‘I’ve seen the massive devastation caused by these fish and it really made me want to work on this project. We felt like we could create some change in the world.’

The team at WPI has been working to develop systems that will allow the robot to tell lionfish apart from other species.

Then, once it spots the correct target, it can launch a spear and harvest the fish.

The robot is equipped with eight spear tips mounted on a carousel, along with left and right cameras and air-filled buoyancy chambers to help equalize the robot after it discharges a spear.

Lionfish have become a major problem in the waters off the coastal US and Caribbean islands; originally from the South Pacific and Indian oceans, lionfish have no natural predators in the area and are now out-competing native species

Lionfish have become a major problem in the waters off the coastal US and Caribbean islands; originally from the South Pacific and Indian oceans, lionfish have no natural predators in the area and are now out-competing native species

Lionfish have become a major problem in the waters off the coastal US and Caribbean islands; originally from the South Pacific and Indian oceans, lionfish have no natural predators in the area and are now out-competing native species

Its computer vision system relies on machine learning to distinguish lionfish from other marine life.

After training it on thousands of images of lionfish, the team says it can recognize the invasive species with more than 95 percent accuracy.

Lionfish pose a growing threat to the already-struggling coral reefs in the region along with other marine ecosystems.

In just five weeks, they can devour as much as 90 percent of juvenile fish populations in a given area, according to the Ocean Support Foundation.

And, harvesting them could be a good source of income for local fishermen.

These fish can sell for up to $20 per pound, but can be difficult to hunt due to their potent venom and array of sharp spines.

The team at WPI has been working to develop systems that will allow the robot to tell lionfish apart from other species. Then, once it spots the correct target, it can launch a spear and harvest the fish

The team at WPI has been working to develop systems that will allow the robot to tell lionfish apart from other species. Then, once it spots the correct target, it can launch a spear and harvest the fish

The robot is equipped with eight spear tips mounted on a carousel, along with left and right cameras and air-filled buoyancy chambers to help equalize the robot after it discharges a spear

The robot is equipped with eight spear tips mounted on a carousel, along with left and right cameras and air-filled buoyancy chambers to help equalize the robot after it discharges a spear

The robot is equipped with eight spear tips mounted on a carousel, along with left and right cameras and air-filled buoyancy chambers to help equalize the robot after it discharges a spear.

WHY ARE LIONFISH SUCH A PROBLEM IN THE ATLANTIC? 

Lionfish have become a major problem in the waters off the coastal US and Caribbean islands. 

They are originally from the South Pacific and Indian oceans, and have no natural predators in the area.

As a result, they’re are now out-competing native species and wreaking havoc on the coral reef ecosystems. 

In just five weeks, they can devour as much as 90 percent of juvenile fish populations in a given area, according to the Ocean Support Foundation.

According to the researchers, autonomous robots could help to change this.

‘The goal is to be able to toss the robot over the side of a boat and have it go down to the reef, plot out a course, and begin its search,’ says Craig Putnam, senior instructor in computer science and associate director of WPI’s Robotics Engineering Program.

‘It needs to set up a search pattern and fly along the reef, and not run into it, while looking for the lionfish.

‘The idea is that the robots could be part of the environmental solution.’

 


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