Underwater robots to repair coral reefs

Underwater robots to repair coral reefs

Underwater robots to repair coral reefs

Scientists in Scotland are developing underwater robots that will dive deep into the sea to repair coral reefs damaged by pollution and destructive fishing practices.

Researchers from the Heriot-Watt University in Scotland are designing “coralbots” to work in groups, in a similar manner to bees and ants.

The team is still “training” the software that will control the bots to “recognise” corals and distinguish them from other sea objects, the BBC News reported.

Corals are easily damaged by pollution and destructive fishing practices, and it takes decades for them to re-grow.

The Atlantic Ocean off the west coast of Scotland is home to cold-water reefs.

When they get damaged, scuba divers re-cement broken fragments, helping them re-grow - but it is tricky for divers to reach depths over 200 metres.

Coralbots, the researchers hope, will be a lot more efficient, able to repair the reefs in days or weeks.

Initially, the robots would be adaptations of those already developed at the university’s Ocean Systems Lab.

They would be about a metre long, with built-in video, image-processing and simple manipulation tools, such as scoops and arms, and would operate in “swarms”.

“Our key idea is that coral reef restoration could be achieved via swarm intelligence, which allows us to exploit co-operative behaviours we see from natural swarms of bees, termites and ants that build complex structures such as hives and nests,” marine biologist Lea-Anne Henry who is lead scientist on the project was quoted as saying by the BBC.

She said the robots would be intelligent enough to navigate and avoid obstacles.

“We are developing new intelligent object recognition routines, exploiting the data from hundreds of coral reef images, to enable each swarm member to recognise coral fragments and distinguish them from other materials and objects in the environment in real-time,” she said.