RangerBot: The Robot That’s Reviving the Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef is dead. At least, that's what one article reported a month ago. And the whole of the internet seemed to buy it. Now, as it turns out, that wasn't quite true. The reef isn't in great shape, but it's not breathed its last breath yet, and now thanks to new robotic technologies, it might never have to.

Author Marisa Pettit, 11.16.16

The Great Barrier Reef is dead. At least, that’s what one article reported a month ago. And the whole of the internet seemed to buy it. Now, as it turns out, that wasn’t quite true. The reef isn’t in great shape, but it’s not breathed its last breath yet, and now thanks to new robotic technologies, it might never have to.

Back on October 11th 2016, a magazine posted an outlandish obituary that quickly became viral – you probably saw it shared on Facebook, if you didn’t post it yourself. The Great Barrier Reef had officially “passed away in 2016 after a long illness”. According to Outside magazine, a mixture of climate change and ocean acidification had done the seemingly impossible: killed off the world’s largest living entity. Age: 25 million years.

Reports Of Its Death Had Been Greatly Exaggerated

But no sooner had the tongue-in-cheek article become newsfeed fodder, aka more-or-less unofficially accepted fact, then scientists around the world stepped up to refute the claim. Sure the Great Barrier is suffering, they said: just like many coral reefs around the world, due to rising ocean temperatures it’s gradually becoming “bleached”, or in other words, losing its protective layer of algae and with it its colour and source of food. As we reported here at RESET, some countries have even resorted to creating artificial reefs under the sea by sinking whole aeroplanes.

But despite the fact it’s struggling, it’s still very much alive, and this kind of misinformation, however tongue-in-cheek, was condemned as overly pessimistic not to mention downright irresponsible. Who will help the reef survive if they think it’s already dead? A group of Australian scientists never gave up hope.

We Present the Starfish-Stabbing Robo RangerBot

The Great Barrier Reef Foundation has got together with robotics experts to develop a high-tech, Autonomous Underwater Vehicle known as the RangerBot, a sort-of super-efficient extra pair of hands and eyes that can help them in their preservation efforts: controlling pests (like the destructive Crown-Of-Thorns starfish), monitoring reef health indicators and mapping huge underwater areas of the reef. Described as both a “Swiss-army knife”, and a “low-cost robo reef protector”, this small and highly innovative underwater robot can reportedly patrol and monitor the whole length of the reef up to 14 times a year. Compare that to human divers, who in a whole year only manage to cover half of the reef’s whole length.

And well as taking only a fraction of the time that humans do, it’s at a fraction of the cost, meaning the technology represents a really affordable, broadly-accessible solution to helping human efforts to protect reefs around the world. After all, they’re not just tourist attractions and pretty to look at – according to statistics from the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, more than a billion people around the world rely on coral reefs for food and to support their livelihoods.

To see footage of the robot in action against its main enemy – starfish! – check out the 30 second clip below.

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