Wreaking environmental havoc in tropical Atlantic waters, the invasive lionfish may soon be drawn into an undersea, robotic vacuum intended to slow the spread of the venomous yet tasty species.
The device, named the Guardian LF1, uses a pair of electrically charged, spatula-like prongs to stun the lionfish, while a thruster sucks the catch into a canister for eventual repurposing as a delicious meal. The prototype is the first device from Robots in Service of the Environment, a nonprofit in Bedford, Massachusetts, formed by iRobot CEO Colin Angle and his wife, Erika Angle, founder of Science from Scientists.
“Erika and I love scuba diving, exploring and traveling. As a result, we are also deeply aware of how fragile the marine ecosystem is and the importance of biodiversity in our oceans,” Colin Angle said. “In 2015, on a diving trip to Bermuda, we came face-to-face with the lionfish and saw the devastating reduction to biodiversity and damage to the coral reef that these voracious fish were creating.”
Robotics to the rescue
Joined by local environmentalists on their trip, the Angles brainstormed with their hosts over solutions that robotics could offer in terms of large-scale collection of lionfish, which must be speared or caught by hand net, as they don’t bite a hook.
“We knew almost immediately that robotics would provide a unique answer to this environmental problem,” Angle said. “Robots can reach huge populations of lionfish below safe diver depth, where people can’t go without risking their lives. We also knew that if we could make an affordable platform, it would be economically rewarding catching lionfish.”
Native to the South Pacific and Indian Ocean, lionfish became popular aquarium fish in the United States because of their colorful vertical stripes; broad, fan-like fins;