Robot delivers lethal injection to crown of thorns starfish

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QUT media

Behold: the first autonomous robot that patrols coral reefs and exterminates marine pests with with a lethal injection.

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COTSbot, developed by Queensland University of Technology researchers, spent many trials tethered to a Wi-Fi-enabled boat beaming data back to the researchers, allowing them to see through the robot’s cameras, verify every crown of thorns starfish (COTS) it identified and approve injections before they happened.

Once it proved it could work well under human supervision, the researchers monitored its autonomous efforts. It didn’t fail to deliver.

Crown of thorns starfish are responsible for around 40% of the Great Barrier Reef’s total decline in coral cover. Armies of autonomous robots, armed with lethal injections, could help stem the destruction.

“We’re very happy with COTSbot’s computer vision and machine learning system,” says Feras Dayoub, who worked on the machine.

“The robot’s detection rate is outstanding, particularly because COTS blend in very well with the hard corals they feed on, and because the robot must detect them in widely varying lighting conditions and shapes as they hide among the coral.

“When it comes to accurate detection, the goal is to avoid any false positives – that is, the robot mistaking another creature for a COTS. Our detection is extremely precise – it’s consistently reliable.”

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