A killer aquatic drone that can accurately identify and eliminate prey all by itself is about to be unleashed by the Queensland University of Technology (QUT).
Thankfully it’s targeting pest crown-of-thorns starfish attacking the Great Barrier Reef (for now).
The ongoing collaboration between Google, QUT and the Great Barrier Reef Foundation uses computer vision and machine learning to identify the destructive echinoderms and injecting them with a lethal dose of poison.
“RangerBot is the world’s first underwater robotic system designed specifically for coral reef environments, using only robot-vision for real-time navigation, obstacle avoidance and complex science missions,” QUT robotics professor Matthew Dunbabin said.
Unlike other marine drones which use acoustic-based technologies, Dunabin says RangerBot is equipped onboard computer vision technology and can identify the crown-of-thorns with 99.4 percent accuracy.
The RangerBot can also receive assistance from a human operator via iPad, and after two years of research and development is ready to be put to work protecting the largest living structure on the planet.
On top of its search and destroy capabilities, the drone can also be used to monitor a range of issues facing coral reefs including bleaching events, water quality, pollution and silt build up.
“It can help to map expansive underwater areas at scales not previously possible, making it a valuable tool for reef research and management,” Dunbabin added.
“RangerBot can stay underwater almost three times longer than a human diver, gather more data, and operate in all conditions and at all times of the day or night, including where it may not be safe for a human diver.”
The next steps for the project include further testing with The Australian Institute of Marine Science and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority to meet further approval standards.
Great Barrier Reef Foundation managing director Anna Marsden said the robot will help secure the source of food and income for the half a billion people who depend on healthy reef systems globally.
“RangerBot has the potential to revolutionise the way we manage our oceans and is an important tool to have at our disposal in the quest to save our coral reefs,” she said.