IT’S LIKE A ROOMBA MACHINE THAT CAN VACUUM YOUR HOME, except that this robot vacuums up lionfishes. The folks who founded iRobot have used their expertise to develop the Guardian LF1, a robot that can chase the invasive fishes down to otherwise inaccessible depths.
In many areas, Lionfish Derbies and the enthusiasm of individual divers have done an admirable job of culling lionfishes from diver-friendly depths. But it’s clear that large numbers of lionfishes survive in deeper waters, where divers who spearfish for them can’t go. Guardian LF1 can, as deep as 400 feet.
CONTROLLED FROM THE SURFACE Its prototype unveiled in Bermuda earlier this year, the machine is the product of Robots in Service of the Environment (RSE), an independent nonprofit organization established in 2015 by the founders of roboting pioneer iRobot. And, it’s designed to cost less than $1,000.
The Guardian LF1 involves two parts – an underwater remotely operated vehicle (ROV) designed to catch and contain lionfishes and a control station operated by a human controller at the surface. The ROV is equipped with eight separate thrusters that enable it to move smoothly in all planes of motion. An onboard autopilot enables it to maintain position regardless of currents it might be experiencing.
A lionfish identified by the operator is stunned by a mild electric, similar to technology used by marine biologists in freshwater to humanely capture and release fish unharmed. Immobilized, the lionfish is suctioned into the ROV’s containment chamber. A robot can capture up to 10 lionfish before returning to the surface. Future versions will be able to hold more or fewer fish.
FACE TO FACE RSE was conceived in 2015 as a result of a trip to Bermuda by iRobot cofounder Colin Angle and his wife Erika, who came face to face with the lionfish infestation. Collaborators in the project include Bermuda’s Ministry of the Environment and a dozen other organizations.
To see Guardian LF1 in action, go to the Robots in Service of the Environment website. For a different in-depth look at the project in the “The lionfish zapper hits the open seas,” which ran on the PBS News Hour.