Autonomous submersible craft could harvest a species that is damaging critical reefs and depleting valuable fish supplies
Undergraduate students at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) are building an autonomous underwater robot that could help reduce the threat posed by an invasive species of fish that, unchecked by natural predators, threatens the well-being of coral reefs and other marine ecosystems in Coastal U.S. and Caribbean waters, including commercially and recreationally important native fish the region depends on.
In a multi-year effort launched last fall, WPI student teams are developing a robot designed to autonomously hunt for and harvest lionfish. The project’s goal is to reduce the impact of the invasive species on marine ecosystems from the Caribbean up to the coasts of Florida and Georgia. Since the fish is a pricey delicacy, the robot also could provide a new source of income for local fishermen.
The first student project team, completing its MQP (Major Qualifying Project), worked this past academic year to develop several systems that will enable the submersible robot to distinguish lionfish from other species and spear them. The robot could offer fishermen, who normally scuba dive to spear their catch, a more efficient and safe way to harvest the fish, which have poisonous spines that are painful to touch.
A graduation requirement for every WPI student, MQPs are team-based design or research projects that give students professional-level experience. The 2017-18 project team consisted of William Godsey, Brandon Kelly, Joseph Lombardi, Nikolay Uvarov, and Andrey Yuzvik, all members of the Class of 2018 who majored in robotics engineering. The faculty advisors were Kenneth Stafford, teaching professor and director of the university’s Robotics Resource Center; Bradley Miller, associate director of the Robotics Resource Center; and Craig Putnam, senior instructor in computer science and associate director of WPI’s Robotics Engineering Program.
“There are economic and environmental benefits to this, and the fish are delicious,” said Kelly, who focused on the robot’s computer vision system. “I’ve seen the massive devastation caused by these fish and it really made me want to work on this project. We felt like we could create some change in the world.”
Lionfish, a colorful aquarium fish native to the South Pacific and Indian oceans, have become a serious problem in the Caribbean and western Atlantic. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) calls them the “poster child for invasive species.” With no predators outside of their native waters, the population is expanding at an astonishing rate, putting additional stress on coral reefs already struggling from the effects of climate change, pollution, and overfishing.
Lionfish also are disrupting native fish populations that are commercially, recreationally, and ecologically important to the region. According to the Ocean Support Foundation, the fish, which have stomachs that can expand up to 30 times its normal volume as they eat, can reduce juvenile fish populations on a reef by nearly 90 percent in as little as five weeks. Lionfish have been found with more 50 species of juvenile fish in their stomachs.
Harvesting the fish could be an economic boon to the region, since they can fetch up to $20 per pound, making them not only a food source for fishermen but a solid source of income, as well.
There are commercial robots that could be used to harvest lionfish, but they must be directed by an operator connected to the robot by a tether, which could damage fragile reefs. The WPI robot would be untethered and would hunt for fish on its own, without human direction. Once it recognizes a lionfish, it would change course to intercept it and spear it. The buoyant spear tip would detach and float the fish to the surface to be collected. A fisherman could use multiple robots to maximize his catch.
“The goal is to be able to toss the robot over the side of a boat and have it go down to the reef, plot out a course, and begin its search,” said Putnam. “It needs to set up a search pattern and fly along the reef, and not run into it, while looking for the lionfish. The idea is that the robots could be part of the environmental solution.”
The past year’s MQP team members used machine learning, advanced computer vision libraries, neural network software, and computer vision models to develop the robot’s computer vision system, which is the key to distinguishing lionfish from the other fish and aquatic species in the area. They showed the system thousands of images of lionfish of different colors, taken from different angles and in different lighting conditions, to train it to recognize a lionfish with greater than 95 percent accuracy. “The students also showed the system pictures of what it absolutely must not aim at—namely divers!” Putnam said.
The team also developed the spearing and buoyancy compensation systems. The robot has a revolving carousel, not unlike the cylinder of a revolver, that holds eight detachable spear tips. A motorized mechanism connects to a metal shaft that thrusts the spear tips into the fish. As the shaft retracts, leaving the boutant spear tip embedded in the fish, the carousel turns to move the next spear tip into position. As the spear tips are used, the robot loses buoyancy. To compensate, the researchers built a watertight, air-filled chamber that enlarges slightly after each spearing to displace more water and equalize the robot’s bouyancy.
The team also designed a water-tight chamber to protect the robot’s motherboard and electronics from the salt water, which is highly corrosive. “In many ways, this was the hardest part of the project,” said Godsey, who worked on the system’s buoyancy and electronics chambers, along with its shooting mechanism. “Just because something is waterproof doesn’t mean it will work in salt water, which is an incredibly corrosive substance.”
The robot is being designed to attach to a commercially available, autonomous submersible robot.
Receive an email update when we add a new LIONFISH article
The Latest on: Lionfish
via Google News
The Latest on: Lionfish
- Project aims to raise awareness of lionfish to defend against it on December 7, 2018 at 4:08 am
Making Cyprus the first line of defence against the invasion of lionfish into the Mediterranean is the aim of the Relionmed-Life project, its officials said this week. The project was presented as ... […]
- Results of REEF’s 2018 Lionfish Derby Announced on December 6, 2018 at 10:00 am
As the season of REEF’s 2018 Summer Lionfish Derby Series draws to a close, the results of the series were announced. The series featured six lionfish derbies over the summer, and the events were pres... […]
- Underwater peacocks: Baby lionfish smaller than a thumbnail put on a luminous display as they flare out their colourful fins in stunning images captured at night on November 22, 2018 at 4:43 am
Baby lionfish smaller than a thumbnail have been captured fanning out their transluscent fins to display their kaleidoscopic patterns in a set of stunning images. Steven Kovacs managed to capture the ... […]
- Whole Foods Market begins selling invasive lionfish on November 15, 2018 at 3:00 pm
The invasive, exotic fish multiply quickly and are known to harm local species along our coasts. "Lionfish are eating little tiny cleaner fish like parrot fish that clean the algae off the reefs, so t... […]
- The invasive, venomous lionfish is killing Atlantic reefs. So please eat it. on October 23, 2018 at 5:55 am
KEY LARGO, Florida — What do you do with an invasive fish, covered from head to fin with venomous spines as sharp as hypodermic needles; a fish that can’t be caught with a rod or in a trawling net as ... […]
- Scientists built an armed robot to protect coral reefs from invasive lionfish on August 27, 2018 at 5:29 pm
Lionfish are incredibly eye-catching creatures, and they’re a favorite of salt water aquarium enthusiasts because they just plain look cool. They’re also an incredibly troublesome species when they ar... […]
- Autonomous underwater robot hunts and harvests massively invasive lionfish on August 24, 2018 at 8:55 pm
Students at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) are helping to combat a major environmental threat by designing an autonomous underwater robot that can hunt for invasive lionfish. Using a combinatio... […]
- Can Florida’s Lionfish Challenge rein in the venomous invasive? Maybe. on July 16, 2018 at 2:03 am
Submerged in the Gulf of Mexico, Michael DeRemer spotted the yellow glint of the lionfish’s tag. The 62-year-old Largo diver had been looking for grouper that June day, but the tag changed things: It ... […]
- Turning in Dead Lionfish to Florida Wildlife Officials Could Make You $5,000 Richer on June 22, 2018 at 5:16 am
lt;img class="styles__noscript__2rw2y" src="https://dsx.weather.com/util/image/w/lionfish_1.jpg?v=at&w=485&h=273&api=7db9fe61-7414-47b5-9871-e17d87b8b6a0" srcset="https://dsx.weather.com/util/image/w/ ... […]
via Bing News