Equipped with a high-tech vision system which allows it to ‘see’ underwater, and operated using a smart tablet, RangerBot is the world’s first underwater robotic system designed specifically for coral reef environments, using only robot-vision for real-time navigation, obstacle avoidance and complex science missions, QUT Professor Matthew Dunbabin explained:

This multifunction ocean drone can monitor a wide range of issues facing coral reefs including coral bleaching, water quality, pest species, pollution and siltation. It can help to map expansive underwater areas at scales not previously possible, making it a valuable tool for reef research and management. RangerBot can stay under water almost three times longer than a human diver, gather more data, and operate in all conditions and at all times of the day or night, including where it may not be safe for a human diver.

In addition, the robot is fitted with computer vision to ‘see’ where it’s going and avoid obstacles, while it is also ‘trained’ to detect crown-of-thorns starfish – and only these coral-destroying starfish – in much the same way as people learn to differentiate between various forms of sea life, with 99.4% accuracy.

Once the identification is confirmed, RangerBot can instigate an injection which is fatal for the crown-of-thorns starfish, but doesn’t affect anything else on the reef.

...he added.

RangerBot is the result of the Great Barrier Reef Foundation teaming up with QUT roboticists Professor Matthew Dunbabin and Dr Feras Dayoub in 2016 to enter the Google Impact Challenge. As the People’s Choice winner, they secured $750,000 to take the project to the next level.

More than a billion people depend on coral reefs for their food and livelihood – they stand to lose the most if those important ecosystems are not protected...RangerBot has the potential to revolutionise the way we manage our oceans and is an important tool to have at our disposal in the quest to save our coral reefs,

...stated Great Barrier Reef Foundation Managing Director Anna Marsden.

The Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) recently took part in trials with RangerBot on the Great Barrier Reef. AIMS is investigating new technology to boost its data collection and underwater observation capabilities to improve the health of coral reefs.

The next steps will involve further collaboration with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, AIMS and others on the specific testing, review and approvals necessary to ensure RangerBot is set to take on Reef duty.