I was recently sent a news clipping about an imaginative effort to rid the oceans of invasive lionfish: underwater fish-zapping ROBOTS! The group behind this effort is called RSE which is short for “Robots in Service of the Environment”. RSE is raising money through Kickstarter to support design of a robot, yes a robot, that will do mean things to lionfish. Here it is in their words:
“On April 19, 2017, RSE will be in Bermuda to unveil a functional design prototype of an affordable robot that will enable the mass capture of lionfish below depths reachable by sport divers, where the population expands unchecked. At the same time, RSE will launch a crowdfunding campaign to support the final development of the robot as well as resources to bring it to market in scale.“
I’m not sure what to think of this. It seems like a ROV with a big cattle prodder on the end, which just isn’t what I imagined when I heard about an underwater fish-zapping robot. But I suppose it’s not that far off either. Anyways, I don’t see why such a machine couldn’t work in niche situations. It’s obviously an admirable cause and perhaps worth the money. However, there doesn’t seem to be any updates on the performance of their prototype so we’ll just have to wait and see.
But there is one thing that worries me – the idea of rogue environmentalist robots autonomously pursuing conservation goals with electrical prongs is unsettlingly dystopian. But more seriously, would such a machine, obviously meant to shortcut the limits of spearfishing, be used against valuable and vulnerable fishes like grouper who’s deep water refuges provide an important limit to exploitation. I suppose it will depend on how this thing works. But be careful RSE, you may be unleashing a Robot in Service of Overfishing.