Lionfish are beautiful, but they’re also voracious predators. The fish are native to the tropical zones of the Indian and Pacific oceans, but have become an invasive species in the warm waters of the Caribbean, West Atlantic, and Mediterranean over the past few decades. In that time, they’ve caused a lot of harm because they eat just about everything and have venomous spines to protect them from predators. But, a new robot built by Worcester Polytechnic Institute may soon be able to eradicate the lionfish menace and save our ocean ecosystems.
While they’re reportedly delicious, lionfish have traditionally been difficult to harvest. They’re reluctant to bite on fishing hooks, and avoid fishing nets by hiding within the caves of coral reefs. The only reliable way to catch them is with labor-intensive spear fishing. And that’s exactly what the WPI robot does with a carousel of eight spears that it can use to skewer the evasive fish. Of course, the entire purpose of the robot is to protect the native fish, crabs, mollusks, and other marine life, so safety is a concern.
To ensure that the robot doesn’t inadvertently spear those desirable species, they needed a way for the robot to identify lionfish with a high level of accuracy. They were able to accomplish that with machine learning trained on thousands of pictures of lionfish. Once it has been trained, the robot can identify lionfish with 95% accuracy. It’s also trained on what human divers look like, so that it can absolutely avoid poking them. As striking as lionfish are, they belong in your aquarium and not in Caribbean, and this robot could help reduce their influence.