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Robots to Rescue Coral Reefs


Underwater coral

Underwater coral

Credit: Murray Roberts

Heriot-Watt University researchers are developing a swarm of intelligent robots to help save coral reefs.  The "coralbots," each individually following simple rules, will fix damaged parts of coral, enabling them to regrow.

The approach is based on the behavior of insect swarms such as bees, wasps, and termites, which collectively build sustainable and complex structures. The researchers say the project provides an innovative solution to restore the function of reefs, both shallow and deep, around the world. The system requires that the robots first must be driven by a computer and trained to recognize coral fragments from other objects such as rock, litter, sponges, and other sea creatures. The swarm of autonomous underwater robots then will work based on a set of micro-rules to seek out coral fragments and re-cement them to the reef.

"This project explores one of the most intriguing and impressive feats of natural ‘swarm intelligence,' whereby collections of simple-minded individuals collaborate to construct complex and functional structures," says Heriot-Watt professor David Corne. He notes that coralbot swarms can reduce the engineering requirements for the robots.

From Heriot-Watt University 
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