Over one year ago, I wrote an article about the latest technology to help save the Great Barrier Reef from one of its many enemies, the crown of thorns starfish. For those of you who missed the previous article or are unfamiliar with the crown of thorns starfish, it is a great predator of coral reef ecosystems since it feeds on hard corals. In fact, this one species of starfish alone is suspected to be the cause of up to 40% of the Great Barrier Reef’s decline in coral cover this decade.

As many of you probably already know, the Great Barrier Reef is found off the coast of northeastern Australia. Initially, scientists from Queensland University of Technology prepared to deploy an autonomous, or independently acting, robot they called COTSbot (after the crown-of-thorns starfish). The small submersible machine had cameras, five thruster devices, and a GPS system that allows it to seek, find, and kill crown-of-thorns starfish. The robot is able to do this by using a pneumatic, referring to using gas or pressurized air, arm to deliver a lethal injection thus killing the starfish.

If you want to read more about the initial project check out my previous article here.


Crown of Thorns Starfish

From vision to action

As the previous article outlines, this prototype was very new and still under trials. From these trials of a project 10 years in the making, the first autonomous, robot that successfully patrols and exterminates marine pests, has been born.

After many trials and lots of data analyzation, COTSbot has been approved to go solo. During the trials, the researchers used a wi-fi enabled boat with cameras and software that allowed them to verify the crown of thorns starfish (COTS) or target before lethal injections occurred. This racked up a lot of data that the scientists could use for the software in the robot and thus improving accuracy of the target immensely. The COTbot has seen thousands of images of crown of thorns starfish as well as thousands of images of other organisms that are not crown of thorn starfish. Since it does carry a lethal injection it is critical it targets the correct organism.

After a year of trials and dedication, the robot proved it could flourish under human supervision. Then it was time to put it to the real test: autonomy or self-sufficiency. The scientists were thrilled when the technology was able to deliver under the desired conditions. With the help of these autonomous robots armed with lethal injections, the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef and other reefs affected by the same conditions could be minimized greatly. This alone is great news due to the mass decline of coral reef systems worldwide due to a number of factors including increased predation. This technology could also have other applications that could be incredible helpful to mankind.

Check out this amazing video of the COTSbot in action:


The future of crown of thorns starfish robotic assassin technology

The advancement of this technology in the last year is without a doubt a success. One of the scientists, who worked on the robot, Feras Dayoub says, “We’re very happy with COTSbot’s computer vision and machine learning system.”

He also said, “The robot’s detection rate is outstanding, particularly because COTS blend in very well with the hard corals they feed on, and because the robot must detect them in widely varying lighting conditions and shapes as they hide among the coral.”

And finally he concluded, “When it comes to accurate detection, the goal is to avoid any false positives-that is, the robot mistaking another creature for COTS. Our detection is extremely precise- its consistently reliable.”

If everything goes according to plan, the team hopes to have a fleet of COTSbots mowing the Great Barrier Reef for marine pests.  This innovative submersible assassin could be the hero that saves the Great Barrier Reef.


References and photos courtesy of: