In May of 2017, there was a rather unusual contest held in Bermuda in a match of lionfish versus robot. Lionfish that enjoy the beautiful waters surrounding the islands have always enjoyed the luxury of satisfying their appetite. There are plenty of fish in that sea, so to speak, and that is their preferred diet. Word must have gotten out somehow to other lionfish because over the past two years there has been a significant increase in their population in this area. In fact, it’s become a big problem.
In this corner, the Lionfish.
Lionfish are an invasive species that have obliterated the Atlantic coral reef’s ecosystem. They eat a lot! It’s one thing to come to dinner, but quite another to eat almost all of the food. This negative impact inspired Robots in Service of the Environment (RSE), who launched a counter-attack against the lionfish by creating the Guardian LF1—a fish-eating robot. The prototype was put to the test for the first time in May as part of a sustainability exhibition event for the America’s Cup.
In the opposite corner, the robot.
How did it go? John Rizzi, a Navy veteran, entrepreneur, and executive director for RSE, reported the results. “I got to tell you, the moment when we caught the first fish in the wild was just so jubilant. The whole team just like exploded in joy,” said Rizzi. It was only a year ago that RSE collaborated with the creator of the iRobot and (and the Roomba robotic vacuum), Colin Angle, which led to meeting of marine-minded experts including Angle, Rizzi, and marine biologists specializing in the Bermuda Islands. The biologists explained the problematic details of lionfish, and the entrepreneurs got to work developing a solution.
Let the contest begin!
The result was the Guardian LF1 fish-eating-robot, controlled above the surface of the water by a Playstation controller—no kidding! And it worked! the robot swam through the waters zapping and scooping up to ten lionfish at a time. After the robot had its fill—a maximum of ten fish—it would resurface and deliver the hungry predators to the assigned drop site. The lionfish are a bold bunch, so the creative team used that perceived weakness in their strategy to catch them. Basically, the robot swam right up behind the fish, zapped it, and “ate” it by vacuuming it up. The lionfish did not even try to flee.
So for now, at least, the new king of the Atlantic’s coral reef is a robot.