A robotic terminator will soon prowl the Great Barrier Reef with one mission: to seek out and destroy a harmful starfish species.
The crown-of-thorns starfish, or COTS, is believed to be responsible for damaging as much as 40 percent of the famous reef's coral off Australia's northeastern coast.
The COTS is routinely located and eradicated by divers, but a new high-tech robotic submersible will be able help its human allies cover a larger area of the reef, giving the pesky starfish fewer places to hide.
The COTSbot, developed by scientists at the Queensland University of Technology, will be armed with camera, thrusters, and a GPS system, and be almost completely autonomous.
The COTSbot will use its camera and built-in software to identify its target, and then deliver a lethal injection to the starfish using a pneumatic arm. During an eight-hour mission, the robot can kill up to 200 starfish.
But the killing machine has also been programmed with some restraint. If the robot is unsure if a target is a COTS, it can take a picture to be identified later by a human, and divers can also be sent in afterwards to finish off leftover starfish.
Scientists envision a future where the robots are able to work around the clock and in all conditions to eliminate the COTS threat from the Great Barrier Reef.
But for starters, there will only be one submersible to address areas that divers are unable to reach. The COTSbot recently completed testing and will begin active trials later this month, with humans on hand to help identify targets before they're eliminated.
If all goes according to plan, the COTSbot is expected to begin operating autonomously by December.