A Starfish-Killing, Artificially Intelligent Robot Is Set to Patrol the Great Barrier Reef John r. platt – scientific american


An explosion in the population of the crown-of-thorns starfish (COTS), native to the Great Barrier Reef has had dire consequences for the ecosystem, as the COTS prey on coral polyps that currently face endangerment.

In order to regulate the starfish population and protect the reef, robotic researchers at Queensland University have created the COTSbot, an artificially intelligent robot designed to inject COTS with a lethal venom. A fleet of COTSbots patrolling the reef would do a far more effective and efficient job of poisoning the starfish than the divers that currently undergo the task of injecting COTS.

The robots operate by following a preprogrammed path (using sonar and built-in cameras to avoid bumping into the reef), and scan for starfish – which they have been programmed to recognize. When a starfish has been spotted, the COTSbot lowers its pneumatic arm and injects it with poisonous bile that effectively digests the organism from the inside.

The crown-of-thorns starfish


This is article is noteworthy because it presents a sustainable solution to issue plaguing the Great Barrier Reef. The reef, which from 1985 to 2012 has lost 50% of its total coral cover, and if the COTS population is not regulated the situation will only worsen. Also, because the starfish reproduce at an exponential rate – with one starfish having the ability to produce millions of offspring – there is a dire need to impede the population growth as quickly as possible.

Creating a fleet of robots is a far safer way to regulate the population is a far safer solution than say introducing an invasive species to feed off the COTS population. Bringing a new species to an alien environment has the potential to introduce a slew new problems to the ecosystem that are hard to predict because they have never been recorded there in the past.


The idea of an artificially-intelligent, poison-filled robot intrigued me. At first this struck me as the basis of some kind of dystopian sci-fi story, but after thinking further I realized how immense the potential for good these machines are. A robot is the perfect way to police a community and keep one population from upsetting the natural balance of power between species within an ecosystem. After watching the documentary on cane toads being introduced into Australia, I can see how much more stable of solution this article presents to combat extreme population growth.


Created with images by CoffeewithMilk - "heart reef australia great barrier reef" • <SLiM> - "Crown-of-Thorns Starfish"

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