In addition to housing a whopping 25 percent of the ocean’s species, coral reefs represent a great amount of economic prosperity. They protect shorelines by absorbing wave energy while feeding fishing and tourism industries. They’re also fragile, harmed by the very things they promote. Repair efforts exist, but consist largely of volunteer work and take oodles of human hours. So once again we ask ourselves: Why not build robots to do it for us? As it happens, that’s what the Coralbot (funding through May 27) is all about.
Repairing reefs typically involves transplanting live, healthy pieces of coral into the damaged areas. A team from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh intends its Coralbot machines to (eventually) be capable of performing the task themselves. The autonomous underwater robots will use swarm intelligence harmlessly navigate around coral, identify healthy animals, and transplanting bits and pieces to their appropriate places as they go. The Coralbots will either use an underwater epoxy, or ties and nets and concrete flower pots, to affix the transplanted coral.
The team is made up of a marine biologist, an artificial intelligence scientist, an autonomous systems/roboticist, a machine vision scientist, and an autonomous underwater vehicles specialist. Currently, the burden of developing the sea-faring capability of the bots is finished—the team’s got examples of prior experience with that sort of thing. What remains is to instill the necessary vision and engineer the manipulator arms that’ll do the fixing.
Clearly the expertise isn’t lacking on this endeavor. But here’s the thing: This project is more of a charity case your typical crowdfunding project. You can grab a tee shirt for $35 (provided $130,000 is raised) and gain access to a couple types of educational material higher up, but that’s it for things you’ll receive. The rest of the reasonably sized tiers involve some size or method of scrawling your name or a message of your choice into the bots themselves or the foundations they’ll be built on. This may be the reason the project’s only raised about a quarter of its $107,000 goal with about two weeks to go. With your help, though, a swarm of auto-repair robots could be patrolling our oceans in the near future.