Last year we reported on Heriot-Watt University’s Coralbot project, which aims to deploy swarms of intelligent robots to help rebuild coral reefs around the world. Now the Coralbots’ makers have turned to crowdfunding in an effort to complete their robots and send them down into the Scottish seas.

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The Coralbot Kickstarter campaign aims to raise $107,000 in order to fund the scheme, which would augment human attempts to repair reefs. Currently, this process of regrowth is assisted by volunteer scuba divers who reassemble coral fragments on the sea floor with pieces of a type of coral that can regrow and repair itself, but it has limited success. The Coralbots are able to reach depths that divers are unable to get to, seek out coral fragments and re-cement them to the reef. The swarm of autonomous underwater robots can also be programmed to tell the difference between coral fragments and sea life.

“Coral reefs support over 500 million people across the globe. But reefs are being damaged on a global scale by storms, destructive fishing, ship groundings and careless tourists. It can take many years to decades for them to heal,” explains the team behind the Coralbot. “The big job of developing and testing the robots at sea has already been done. All that remains is to embed the robots with computer vision to “see” healthy bits of coral, and configure appropriate manipulator arms for each robot to pick up and put down the pieces in the right spots. Kickstarter fundswill let us purchase and assemble this kit, and allow us to conduct our first live demonstration of the robot team on a coral reef in a public aquarium. This will provide a conservation solution that paves the way for coral reef restoration across the globe. “

The team is made up of experts in a variety of fields: coral biology (Lea-Anne Henry), autonomous underwater robots technology (David Lane runs the Ocean Systems Laboratory at Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, and Dick Blidberg runs the Autonomous Undersea Systems Institute in New Hampshire), swarm intelligence (David Corne), and video/image processing (Neil Robertson). However despite all the brain power on the project, they still need to raise $107,000, in six months in order to demonstrate this technology in public with two specially adapted robots.

To find out more or to donate to the project, click here.

+ Kickstarter

+ Heriot-Watt University

Images © Heriot-Watt University and Thomas Lundalv