Can killer robots save ocean ecosystems?

Story highlights

  • iRobot CEO launches company to produce lionfish killer machine
  • The invasive fish are devastating marine ecosystems
  • Machines will electrocute and collect lionfish

(CNN)Few predators can match the devastating impact of the lionfish.

Since arriving in US waters in the 1980s, these fearsome creatures have left a trail of destruction along the Atlantic Coast, from Rhode Island to Venezuela.
    Lionfish can reduce a flourishing coral reef to barren wasteland in a matter of weeks. Native fish, unfamiliar with the new arrival, do not know to avoid it, and the predator gorges to the point of obesity.
      As so-called "apex predators" they sit at the top of the food chain, unthreatened by any other creature. They breed rapidly, and are extremely resilient and adaptable. No solution has been found to control their advance yet, but conservationists could soon have a new tool at their disposal: killer robots.
      Dissection of a lionfish reveals its rampant appetite.

      Video game

      The idea emerged from a diving trip in Bermuda, where iRobot CEO Colin Angle met with local conservationists, and learned about the extent of the damage caused by lionfish.
      One of the group suggested that he create a machine to kill the fish, and another offered to provide funding.
      Angle returned home and wrote a proposal, which swiftly became the non-profit company "Robots in Service of the Environment (RISE)."
      The design for a lionfish killer combines a remotely-operated vehicle (ROV), using technology which iRobot had developed for the automatic vacuum cleaner Roomba, with a bespoke electrocution device.
      "Think of it as a video game," says RISE executive director John Rizzi.
      "It will be a tethered device with a control mechanism that you drop into the water," he says. "You drive the ROV until you see the fish -- a lot of the technology is in the cameras -- then you drive the ROV onto the fish and press the trigger."
      In tests, the lionfish have shown no fear when tw