Life on the reef is good for the crown of thorns starfish. Their spiny exteriors keep them safe from most predators, there’s plenty of coral for them to feast on, and their populations have been booming since the 1960s. To keep them from devouring Australia’s Great Barrier Reef faster than it can recover, scientists from the Queensland University of Technology have developed a starfish-destroying robot they hope will even out the playing field.
COTSbot (Crown of Thorns Starfish bot) is an autonomous, aquatic robot programmed to seek out the pesky starfish, hover over them, and inject them with a lethal dose of chemicals using a retractable needle. After “memorizing" thousands of photos, the machine's vision system recognizes the crown of thorns starfish with over 99 percent accuracy. The COTSbot can deliver 200 lethal injections during an eight-hour run, and it's capable of descending to depths up to 100 meters.
Sea trials of the device have just been completed, and the robotics experts from QUT hope to test it on live targets (with human diver supervision) in the Great Barrier Reef later this month. If that test run goes smoothly, the COTSbot will be scouting the reef on its own, Terminator-style, by December.