Sea Star-Murdering Robots Set To Protect Corals On Great Barrier Reef

Look out crown-of-thorns sea stars, there's a new sheriff on the Great Barrier Reef!

Australia’s Great Barrier Reef can’t catch a break: on top of contending with pollution, hurricanes, and back-to-back-to-back bouts of coral bleaching, the world’s most iconic reef is being eaten alive by millions of prickly, venomous sea stars known as crown-of-thorns starfish (COTS). But in a matchup befitting a sci-fi movie, scientists have developed a new robot to hunt and kill these sea stars—a murderous, autonomous underwater vehicle called RangerBot.

Since 2010, the population of native, coral-eating COTS has been booming, and the outbreak is plaguing the 2,300-kilometer-long Great Barrier Reef. RangerBot is being introduced to the reef—and to sea star nightmares—this week, in part to help with ongoing efforts to control COTS. This autonomous bounty hunter is the result of more than a decade’s worth of research and development by Queensland University of Technology (QUT) roboticist Matthew Dunbabin, backed by a US $750,000 grant from Google’s nonprofit arm.

COTS outbreaks have been a major cause of coral death for the struggling Great Barrier Reef.

Photo: Thomas Quine/WIkimedia Commons

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