The Great Barrier Reef faces several threats, including warming ocean temperatures and overfishing, but researchers think they've created something that could offer the world's largest coral reef system some protection.
The RangerBot is an underwater drone the size of a briefcase, with a visual system that enables it to sidestep obstacles. With 99.4 percent accuracy, this autonomous device can identify crown-of-thorns starfish, which are covered with toxic spines. Because they can grow to the size of a manhole cover, these starfish are able to "devastate large tracts of reef," researcher Matthew Dunbabin said in a statement. Once the RangerBot confirms it has found a crown-of-thorns starfish, it can "instigate an injection which is fatal for the crown-of-thorns starfish but doesn't affect anything else on the reef."
The RangerBot also monitors the health of a reef, creating 3D maps that can show any changes in the ecosystem. The RangerBot can stay underwater a lot longer than a human diver, and can also explore areas that have sharks and crocodiles. The RangerBot has been tested extensively, and now, Dunbabin is working with authorities to get the permits necessary to launch the robots. Catherine Garcia