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Proposed 'Coralbots' would use swarm intelligence to repair coral reefs

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Scientists at Heriot-Watt University in Scotland are developing a new type of undersea robot they're dubbing "coralbots."The goal is to create multiple robots that will work in a "swarm" to repair the cold-water coral reefs around Scotland that have been damaged by fisherman, re-cementing the reefs together in a matter of days instead of the "years to centuries" that it would normally take for the reefs to recover naturally

Coral Reef - Attribute NOAA / Flickr
Coral Reef - Attribute NOAA / Flickr

Scientists at Heriot-Watt University in Scotland are developing a new type of undersea robot they're dubbing "coralbots." The goal is to create multiple robots that will work in a "swarm" to repair the cold-water coral reefs that have been damaged by fisherman, re-cementing the broken pieces together. Theoretically, the the robots could be deployed immediately after the damaged occurred, which would allow scientists to "rebuild the reef in days to weeks, instead of [the] years to centuries," according to Dr Lea-Anne Henry. Currently, similar work is done by human divers, but they can't work at the same depths or for as long as robots.

The team tells the BBC that the plan is to adapt robots already created in another department that are about a meter long with video cameras and small arms. The "swarm intelligence" allows for a group of robots which each individually only require simple instructions, but would work together to rebuild the reefs. It's still early days — the team needs to develop the software to recognize coral fragments and the "micro-rules" that would govern each robot's behavior — but if fully funded, the first coralbots could be put into action in less than a year.