Coral reefs get touched by a robot

Marc Sanchez Aug 29, 2012

The coral reefs just off the west coast of Scotland have taken a beating from pollution and overfishing, and now they’re going to get a little robot-style TLC. Currently in training with builders from Heriot-Watt University, Scottland, “coralrobots” will soon be let loose in the Atlantic to tend and repair the reef. The BBC reports:

When they get damaged, scuba divers re-cement broken fragments, helping them re-grow – but it is tricky for divers to reach depths over 200m.
Coralbots, the researchers hope, will be a lot more efficient, able to repair the reefs in days or weeks.

The bots aren’t very smart on their own, but when they work in a swarm, like underwater bees with video cameras and remote-control arms, they can get a lot done. The BBC spoke with some of the researchers:

“Our key idea is that coral reef restoration could be achieved via swarm intelligence, which allows us to exploit co-operative behaviours we see from natural swarms of bees, termites and ants that build complex structures such as hives and nests,” said marine biologist Lea-Anne Henry who is lead scientist on the project at Heriot-Watt.
She said the robots would be intelligent enough to navigate and avoid obstacles.
“We are developing new intelligent object recognition routines, exploiting the data from hundreds of coral reef images, to enable each swarm member to recognise coral fragments and distinguish them from other materials and objects in the environment in real-time,” she said.

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