My Thoughts on Technology and Jamaica: How @QUT Crown-of-Thorns COTSbot can kill Lionfish and giant Goldfish

Friday, October 2, 2015

How @QUT Crown-of-Thorns COTSbot can kill Lionfish and giant Goldfish

“We see the COTSbot as a first responder for ongoing eradication programs -- deployed to eliminate the bulk of COTS in any area, with divers following a few days later to hit the remaining COTS. The COTSbot becomes a real force multiplier for the eradication process the more of them you deploy -- imagine how much ground the programs could cover with a fleet of 10 or 100 COTSbots at their disposal, robots that can work day and night and in any weather condition”

Dr Matthew Dunbabin, Lead Designer for the COTSbot (Crown-of-Thorns Starfish robot) at the Institute for Future Environments

Robots are pretty cool and the Aussies are putting them to some interesting applications.

Now comes the latest one; Queensland University of Technology has developed a Robot to kill of the deadly Crown-of-Thorns Starfish (Acanthaster planci) that's destroying the Great Barrier Reef as explained in the article “Seek-and-destroy robot to stop starfish killing the Great Barrier Reef”, published September 7, 2015 by Michelle Starr, CNET News

This robot, an AUV (Autonomous Underwater Vehicle) dubbed the COTSbot (Crown-of-Thorns Starfish robot), was developed by the Queensland University of Technology over a period of ten (10) years.
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The group has been focused on the development of the robot to kill the Crown-of-Thorns Starfish (Acanthaster planci) which has been identified as the main cause of the decline in the Great Barrier Reef as per the research paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences JournalThe 27–year decline of coral cover on the Great Barrier Reef and its causes”.

It basically works by identifying the Crown-of-Thorns Starfish (Acanthaster planci) and then injecting it with a deadly mixture of ox bile salts. This procedure causes the Crown-of-Thorns Starfish (Acanthaster planci) to blister and burst open, dying within 24 hours.

A breakthrough by the James Cook University via the discovery that vinegar was just as effective as ox bile salts is what got Dr Matthew Dunbabin, Lead Designer for the  COTSbot (Crown-of-Thorns Starfish robot), to restart his project as note in the article “This underwater Drone hunts and kills invasive starfish on the Great Barrier reef”, published September 4, 2015 By Kelly Hodgkins, Digitaltrends.

Best of all, this condition is infectious; other Crown-of-Thorns Starfish (Acanthaster planci) that come in contact with the dead and dying Crown-of-Thorns Starfish also die within 24 hours.

With a mortality rate of 100%, this is possibly the best solution against this invasive pest that's eating the coral that takes decades to grow and cover the 344,400 square kilometers (133,000 square miles) the Great Barrier Reef.

But aside from killing this pest, why is the COTSbot (Crown-of-Thorns Starfish robot) necessary? After all, couldn't human diver have done a similar job and get paid doing it?

Queensland University of Technology COTSbot - How Robots will be back as underwater terminators

Apparently it's not that easy for human divers to swim around for hunting for the Crown-of-Thorns Starfish (Acanthaster planci).

In fact, Dr Matthew Dunbabin , Lead Designer for the COTSbot (Crown-of-Thorns Starfish robot) at the Institute for Future Environments at the Queensland University of Technology, praised the work of the divers thus far, quote: “Human divers are doing an incredible job of eradicating this starfish from targeted sites but there just aren't enough divers to cover all the COTS hotspots across the Great Barrier Reef”.

However, as you might have guessed, being as this is repetitive and dangerous work, as the Crown-of-Thorns Starfish (Acanthaster planci) sting causes quite a reaction, making robots perfectly suited to doing this type of job! 

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The COTSbot can operate at lower depths than the humans can and can swim 1 meter above the ocean floor. Because the drone operates under water and floats based on buoyancy, its batteries are mainly to operate propulsion, navigation and the on board controller. This means it gets up to eight (8) hours of swimming time underwater and can carry a payload of 200 lethal injections.

It also has a built in stereoscopic camera as the input to the onboard controller, making it capable of detecting the Crown-of-Thorns Starfish (Acanthaster planci), which it's capable of doing autonomously with an accuracy of 99%. Once the COTSbot spots a Crown-of-Thorns Starfish (Acanthaster planci), it takes a picture that's sent to a human for verification before it delivers it's lethal dose of ox Bile salts.

Queensland University of Technology COTSbot Trials in December 2015 - Hunter killers to reduce exploding population of Crown-of-Thorns Starfish

The team from the Queensland University of Technology is currently improving the accuracy of the COTSbot by giving its built-in AI (Artificial Intelligence) algorithm as many pictures of the Crown-of-Thorns Starfish (Acanthaster planci) under varying conditions.

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This so that it can identify the Crown-of-Thorns Starfish (Acanthaster planci) accurately, even if it has a different colour or chooses to hide within the coral. The Queensland University of Technology will do some trial runs on December 2015.

Also, they may wish to work with the James Cook University and replace the use of Ox Bile Salts with Vinegar, which is just as effective at killing the Crown-of-Thorns Starfish (Acanthaster planci) as reported in the article “Coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish can be killed with vinegar, scientists find”, published Wednesday 23 September 2015 by Oliver Milman, The UK Guardian and “Barrier Reef: Vinegar could curtail coral-eating starfish”, published 23 September 2015, BBC News.

If successful, the COTSbot will be deployed all across the Great Barrier Reef as hunter killers to reduce the currently exploding population of Crown-of-Thorns Starfish (Acanthaster planci).

Robots as hunter-killers for other invasive species - From killing Crown-of-Thorns Starfish to Lionfish and gigantic Goldfish

But most interesting is that if this strategy works for the Crown-of-Thorns Starfish (Acanthaster planci)), could it not also be used to hunt and kill other invasive species, such as the Red Lionfish (Pterois volitans) as described in my blog article entitled “National Lionfish Project reaps 66% reduction as Lionfish Population is down - NEPA's MTIASIC suggests Commercial Lionfish Farming possible for Restaurants and Fast Food Industry”. 

In fact, it can also be used to hunt and kill goldfish now plagueing the Australian rivers based on research done by Murdoch University’s Freshwater Fish Group and Fish Health Unit in Australia a reported in my blog article entitled “Murdoch University says Goldfish Destroy Freshwater Ecosystems - Why Jamaica must avoid Goldfish becoming Kingpins in our Rivers”.

Yet another use of robots that at least beneficial and keeping humans out of harm’s way!

Robotics used to protect the environment in this way is one of the more beneficial aspects of these cybernetic systems. Hopefully, other countries will follow Australia's example and begin to gradually accept the use of Robotics in everyday life!

Here’s the link:

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