While it may not exactly be like the relentless T-600 models in the Terminator films, this autonomous robot developed in Australia promises to wreak its havoc on the crown-of-thorns starfish (COTS) that have been plaguing the corals in the Great Barrier Reef.

Robotics experts at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) developed the COTSbot specifically to seek out crown-of-thorns starfish and control the population of the highly destructive marine creature. COTS are known to be the cause of up to 40 percent of the total coral cover decline observed in the world famous reef system.

The COTSbot had just completed its first trials at sea at the Moreton Bay in Queensland which was meant to test the robot's navigation system and mechanical parts.

Dr. Matthew Dunbabin, a researcher at the university's Institute for Future Environments and creator of the COTSbot, said that the robot was fitted with stereoscopic cameras to provide it with depth perception. It was also given five thrusters to allow it to remain stable while in the water as well as pitch-and-roll sensors and GPS.

The COTSbot's most striking feature is its mechanical arm that was fitted with a pneumatic injection that can deliver a lethal dose of bile salts to crown-of-thorns starfish.

Dunbabin said that while human divers do an effective job of eliminating COTS from specific sites, there are not enough divers to protect all known hotspots for the starfish in the Great Barrier Reef.

He explained that they view the autonomous robot as a first responder for ongoing programs for eradicating crown-of-thorns starfish. The COTSbot will be sent out to eliminate majority of the COTS in an area, after which human divers will follow a few days later to target the last of the COTS.

Dunbabin added that the COTSbot becomes more effective at eliminating crown-of-thorns starfish when there are more of the robots deployed. A fleet of 10 or 100 of the autonomous robots can cover a larger area and can continue their work regardless of weather conditions.

The COTSbot is capable of searching the reef system for up to eight straight hours at a time. It can also deliver more than 200 doses of its lethal shot.

Thomas Quine | Flickr 

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