Monitoring the Great Barrier Reef using Robot Vision – RangerBot AUV
The Queensland University of Technology’s (QUT) Robotics and Autonomous Systems research group led by Professor Matthew Dunbabin and Dr. Feras Dayoub have developed a reef monitoring robotic system that they call the RangerBot Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV). QUT is working with the Great Barrier Reef Foundation with support from Google Impact Challenge. Underwater robotics and autonomous systems are not new technologies and have been greatly improved upon over the past few decades.
The RangerBot research project’s “emphasis has been on development of advanced real-time image processing techniques and underwater robotic platforms to detect, count and map the distribution of a range of marine pests.”
The vision based reef monitoring system helps researchers and reef managers monitor the health of coral reefs including coral bleaching, water quality, and pests such as the Crown-Of-Thorns Starfish (COTS). The vision system also helps in mapping and inspecting the physical attributes of the reefs.
COTS are natural predators on reefs around the world including the Great Barrier Reef (GBR), but their numbers have been monitored closely due to a fairly drastic increase in population. The cause of their population increase has not been specifically determined, but it is thought to be due to agricultural runoff of sugar cane which increases available larvae sustenance, and due to overfishing of the COTS’ natural predators in the area.
One of the natural predators of COTS is the Giant Triton Snail.
Along with the task of monitoring and detecting the COTS on the GBR, the RangerBot is also tasked with exterminating the pests in order to bring the large population under control. Like many starfish, the COTS has the ability to regenerate injured or killed limbs so killing using traditional methods would need to be applied to each of the up to 21 arms.
It was discovered in 2014 that a single injection of bile salts into a COTS could effectively kill the sea star.
“No immediate flow-on effects on reef fish, corals, and other benthic invertebrates were observed in laboratory experiments and field surveys. Efficient control measures using bile derivatives can offer immediate relief from ongoing COTS predation, and when done in conjunction with improved land use practices that reduce nutrient input and establishment of protected areas to protect predator species, can offer benefits for the resilience of reef ecosystems.”
The RangerBot is the successor of the COTSbot AUV and was developed with ease of operation in mind. The AUV can be deployed and operated by a single person with a tablet sized control interface.
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