coral bleaching
A team of researchers has designed a submersible robot that can kill the starfish which primarily feeds on corals of the Great Barrier Reef. Reuters/Susannah Sayler

The Crown of Thorns starfish, or COTs, have inhabited Australia's Great Barrier Reef since times immemorial, posing a major danger to the health of the reef since it primarily feeds on corals. The situation was still under control, until it was observed in 2014 that COTs are damaging up to 40 percent of the corals.

To help combat the problem, a team of researchers at the Queensland University of Technology in Australia has designed and developed a submersible “killer” robot that can eradicate the COTs, thus preserving the health of the Great Barrier Reef. The robot, called COTsbot, has been specially designed with a computer vision to identify the starfish.

For the purpose of identification, the Terminator-style robot has been pre-equipped will thousands of still images and videos of the reef to make sure that it recognizes the starfish among the coral. Upon identification, the COTsbot extends a pneumatic arm and injects the starfish with a fatal dose of bile salts. The special chemical formulation of bile salts has been created by the researchers at the James Cook University.

"We've always built robots that would have a negligible environmental impact, even if we lost them. Even the injection system has multiple levels of safety built in. The bile salts themselves have no known environmental impact," said Matthew Dunbabin, the co-creator of the COTsbot.

Dunbabin further says that even though the divers are doing an incredible job of eradicating the starfish from the targeted sites, there are not enough divers to eliminate all of it. Therefore, COTsbot has been developed to help speed up the ongoing eradication programs. The divers can later survey the area cleared by COTsbot and destroy the remaining starfish, if any.