An Autonomous Submarine Will Hunt Starfish On the Great Barrier Reef For Science

By Chris Beidelman on at

Building a hunter-killer robot that is programmed to terminate an entire species is normally the job of the bad guys. But when said species is the crown-of-thorns starfish, which feeds off coral, that robot is actually fulfilling a vital mission.

The crown-of-thorns is a serious problem for coral reef — it’s a difficult-to-kill pest, the rise of which has contributed to a 40 per cent loss in coral cover over the last 30 years. Currently, scientists have to recruit human divers to inject each tentacle of the starfish in order to kill it, a process that’s expensive, time-consuming, and really not worthy of man’s role as this planet’s apex predator.

Thankfully, some evil genius has come up with a much better solution: a computer-piloted submersible, called COTSbot, which uses a computer vision system and pneumatic injection arm to target and kill the starfish, using a fatal dose of bile salts. Sure, floating around the sea injecting slow-moving organisms isn’t going to rival Terminator for box-office domination any time soon, but it’s a lot more scientifically useful.


Image credit: Matt Kieffer/Flickr