This underwater death machine has one mission: Destroy the starfish

This underwater death machine has one mission: Destroy the starfish

Australia‘s Great Barrier Reef is dying. Decades of human intervention have left the UNESCO World Heritage site reeling from the consequences of industrialization — water pollution and climate change, chief among them.

But it’s another threat, this one caused by nature but exacerbated by humans, that could prove most imminent: overfishing.

By removing natural predators from the reef, Australia is now experiencing a “bloom” of crown-of-thorns starfish. Without predators, the reef offers an ideal habitat for the gorgeous, and destructive creatures, each of which may reach one meter in size. While a naturally present species, recent years have seen the decline of its primary predator, the giant triton. With the triton gone, the starfish is running amok and wreaking havoc on an already delicate ecosystem.

Enter, RangerBot.

In 2015, researchers at Queensland University of Technology (QUT) first unveiled a solution, known then as the Crown-Of-Thorns-Starfish robot (COTSbot). After initial testing, the team reported that the autonomous underwater drone was able to identify crown-of-thorns starfish with a staggering 99 percent accuracy. Better still, it was fitted with a tool to inject the species, upon identification, with a chemical mixture that first causes their skin to blister, and then leads to death.

Credit: Queensland University of Technology