Coral-repairing robots take a step closer to reality
By Darren Quick
April 16, 2013
Since humans are responsible for much of the damage to coral reefs, it makes sense that we should try and help repair them. That’s exactly what a team from the Herriot-Watt University’s Centre for Marine Biodiversity and Biotechnology is attempting to do with the development of underwater “coralbots.” Now anyone can add their support to this worthy effort with the launch of a Kickstarter campaign that will help make the robots a reality.
The research team has already built a couple of prototype coralbots that can be equipped with onboard camera, computer, and flexible arms and grippers. These would come together to allow the robot to reattach healthy pieces of coral back onto a reef to help speed up the healing process. This time-consuming task is currently performed by scuba divers – or not at all. It also makes repairing reefs at greater depths difficult or impossible.
The team’s plan is to develop a swarm of robots that would autonomously navigate across a damaged coral reef and transplant pieces of healthy coral as they went. The Heriot-Watt researchers says they have already tested their coralbot prototypes at sea but need help both with developing the computer vision system that would allow the robots to visually identify healthy bits of coral and with configuring a manipulator arm with which the robots could pick up and place the coral pieces in the right spot.
The team is hoping to raise US$107,000 to allow them to put all the pieces together and build two robots to publicly demonstrate the feasibility of the technology on a coral reef in a public aquarium. They hope that this will help attract further funds to ultimately realize their goal of producing a team of eight coralbots that could be used on coral reefs around the globe.
Given the nature of the project, backer rewards are limited to recognition of involvement in the form of names printed on the project’s website or the robots themselves. But the real reward is the warm fuzzy feeling you’ll get from knowing you’re helping preserve one of the planet’s most important ecosystems.
Dr Lea-Anne Henry, the leader of the project, gives an overview of the coralbots in the Kickstarter pitch video below.