Undersea robot will hunt invasive lionfish

Published on
March 29, 2017

A new environmental nonprofit, Robots in Service of the Environment (RISE), is targeting lionfish for its first project, hoping to curb the damage being caused by the invasive species.

Created by Colin Angle, chairman, CEO and founder of iRobot, and Erika Angle, CEO of Science From Scientists, RISE is an effort to solve environmental issues with the aid of robot technology.

Lionfish are “drastically reducing biodiversity and coral reef health in all warm waters of the western Atlantic,” noted the organization. In response, RISE has developed an affordable robot capable of mass capture of lionfish below depths reachable by sport divers, “where the population expands unchecked,” RISE explained. The first prototype of the robot will be revealed on 19 April, 2017, during the 11th Hour Racing #EatLionfish Chefs' Throwdown at the National Museum of Bermuda; RISE will also launch a crowdfunding campaign to support the final development of the robot as well as resources to bring it to market in scale.

"Built by a team of volunteers made up of skilled roboticists, scientists and business people, all passionate about the environment, rapid progress has been made on the first prototypes of a robotic solution to one of the top threats to the Atlantic marine ecosystem," said John Rizzi, Executive Director of RISE. "We are thrilled to now formally announce RISE to the public and soon move to our next phase of organizational growth including production of our first low cost robots effectively helping the environment."

Introduced accidentally into the western Atlantic some 25 years ago, lionfish threaten more than 100 different species of reef fish and crustaceans around Florida, throughout the Caribbean and Bermuda. One lionfish is capable of reducing the biomass on a reef by 80 percent in just one month, RISE research revealed.

“Lionfish caught our eye because they are particularly damaging; they are voracious predators, devastating fisheries and the environment up and down North and South America; they are found very deep below safe depths for diving, and reproduce quickly," said Barbara Page, Co-founder and VP of Operations of the Anthropocene Institute. "Robots are ideal for tasks that are hazardous for humans. RISE has the proven expertise to design and mass produce robots and we are fans of their approach."

"As an extension of human efforts, robots have tremendous potential to solve large-scale environmental problems by going and doing what a person cannot," added Colin Angle, co-founder and executive chairman of RISE. "Whether it is helping to clean up a nuclear plant disaster, remove hazardous pollutants, or slow the expansion of an invasive species, robots play a critical role in mitigating manmade environmental problems. RISE was founded to create economically sustainable and scalable robotic solutions with this purpose."

The 11th Hour Racing #EatLionfish Chefs' Throwdown event will involve six celebrity chefs representing the nations most affected by lionfish abundance, as well as teams competing in the America's Cup. All competing chefs and teams, with Rob Ruiz as executive chef, will serve up lionfish delicacies as part of the event, which was created raise awareness about the environmental threat posed by the invasive species.

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