An autonomous underwater drone designed and developed in Queensland, Australia will be used to help save one of the world’s greatest natural assets.
The Great Barrier Reef runs 2,300km along the coast of the north-east Australian state and has an economic value for the country of $AU56 billion.
But due to the increasing pressures of human activities, climate change and poor water quality, it has suffered a 50% drop in coral cover since 1985.
The introduced crown of thorns starfish has also played a significant role in the decline of the reef, and one team of researchers headed by Professor Matthew Dunbabin, marine robotics engineer and fellow at the Queensland University of Technology, has been working on a solution to help curb the starfish numbers.
Dunbabin explains the underwater drone, known as RangerBot, has been developed with Google in association with QUT, and the Great Barrier Reef Foundation.
“It’s a great example what you can do when your bring science, business and not-for-profits together to achieve something to protect the reef,” Dunbabin tells Sunrise.
RangerBot uses autonomous technology and a high tech vision system to tackle the problem of the crown of thorns starfish.
“It operates by itself to actually drive around coral reefs specifically coral reefs to control starfish,” he continues.
It does this using four ‘robot eyes’ and an injection system that mimics a method currently employed by divers to control crown of thorns starfish.
“When it sees a crown of thorns starfish it will actually inject the starfish and help control it’s numbers,” he says, explaining that the solution used to kill the starfish is bile salts.
Over the next few months, key stakeholders whose businesses rely on the health of the reef will evaluate the technology using 5 RangerBots.
“As we know the Great Barrier Reef is very big and too it’s very expensive and logistically difficult to monitor and protect such a large asset so we came up with this technology to try and upscale the protection of the reef,” he continues.
If successful, the RangerBot will be able to cover the reef much more affordably and quickly than is currently possible it can be done by human divers.
He says that they have brought the cost of each RangerBot down to close to that of an aerial drone, and that he hopes they can scale up to 50 units to get as many underwater drones are needed to control crown of thorn starfish numbers effectively.