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Swarming Robots Rescue Coral Reefs

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TJ McDermott
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You've defined Pixar's next movie
TJ McDermott   9/18/2012 10:49:23 AM
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Robots.

Coral Reef.

"WALL-E Finds Nemo"

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: You've defined Pixar's next movie
Ann R. Thryft   9/20/2012 12:08:31 PM
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TJ, just found your WALL-E Finds Nemo comment--thanks for the chuckles. I can visualize it all too well. Wonder if these little bots look anything like WALL-E?

NadineJ
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keep us updated
NadineJ   9/18/2012 11:03:15 AM
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It's interesting but without any details, it's hard to comment.  Is there any research like this in any other part of the world?  Australia and the US also have endangered coral reefs.

Rob Spiegel
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Re: keep us updated
Rob Spiegel   9/18/2012 11:59:45 AM
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It will be interesting to see what details come out about these swarming robots. I can't imagine how they will be able to rebuild damaged coral in days. If they can, that's great news.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: keep us updated
Ann R. Thryft   9/18/2012 12:36:35 PM
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I also wish we'd been able to see what they look like. It's worth remembering that the by now famous U of PA's flying robot quadrotor swarm learned to build things https://www.grasp.upenn.edu/success_story/grasp_lab_drones_colbert_report as did a similar swarm in France http://www.designnews.com/author.asp?section_id=1386&doc_id=249645&image_number=2 Building things is what the coral-repairing swarm will do, so it's not hard to imaging that, assuming the robots stay waterproof, they'll be able to rebuild the reefs pretty quickly, especially with enough of them.

Rob Spiegel
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Re: keep us updated
Rob Spiegel   9/18/2012 1:18:17 PM
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Fascinating, Ann. I take it they would rebuild by using broken pieces of coral -- or perhaps supporting coral that is beginning to break. This could be a big deal given that coral reefs are in bad shape all over the globe.

akwaman
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Re: keep us updated
akwaman   9/19/2012 8:58:30 AM
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This is a cool concept and some neat technology, but it does not restore the animals that actually build the reefs other than to give them substrate and structure.  This process will not really restore a coral reef, except to create man-made structure to support sea life, and there is already ways to do this cheaper. Yes, they (coral) need substrate to attach to and sea life needs reefs for protection, but if you want some lifeless structure to act as a nursery (much needed in the oceans), then I suggest sinking more de-commissioned ships to give some structure for sea life, certainly a lot cheaper, and proven to attract sea life and create new, large coral reefs relatively fast, and create eco-tourist traffic that boosts local economies. Sunken ships are better, because trawlers will stay away from a sunken ship, allowing the sea life to flourish (only to save their precious equipment).  They certainly don't care about coral reefs, and as these robots build up the lifeless reefs, the bottom draggers will come along and continue to destroy them.  Additional concern: I would be curious to know how sensitive to any existing coral that are attached to the materials and structure they are creating. 

Rob Spiegel
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Re: keep us updated
Rob Spiegel   9/19/2012 11:45:49 AM
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What an interesting idea, Akwaman. I take it that we've learned this through accidents. Have there been cases where decommissioned ships were strategically placed to provide a home for sea life?

Cadman-LT
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Re: keep us updated
Cadman-LT   9/19/2012 5:15:20 PM
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Rob, as far as I know they do that with ships all the time. As far as the robots go, I think it's great. About time we help rather than just destroy.

Rob Spiegel
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Re: keep us updated
Rob Spiegel   9/20/2012 1:05:29 PM
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Yes it is about time we help rather than just destroy, Cadman-LT. I remember seeing the plane that was deliberately crashed for the movie Catch 22 off the shore in Isla Mujeres, Mexico. It wasn't intended to become a haven for small fish, but it did.

akwaman
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Re: keep us updated
akwaman   9/26/2012 2:57:32 PM
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Yes, Rob, we did learn this through accidents.  I live in Florida and there are many accidental sinkings that have created great dive spots and attract marine life of all kinds.  It turns out that two very important limiting factors in improving numbers of marine life are shelter and substrate.  Theses sunken ships provide both substrate for marine life that needs something hard to grow on (unlike sand) and offers great shelter and protection for juvenile and adult fish.  With substrate in mind, the swarming robots could possibly help rebuild a reef that is destroyed by things like trawlers, but they will continue to wreck the reefs if not somehow diverted.   Large sunken ships are avoided like the plague by trawlers, because they destroy the nets and are hazardous to the vessels themselves if snagged.  They are also easy to see with fish-finders and other sounding devices.  They are also documented on maps so that they can be easily avoided.  Rebuilding coral reefs is not an easy task, but anything they do to help it along should be examined.  I will be watching to see how this new technology works in the real world. 

Rob Spiegel
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Re: keep us updated
Rob Spiegel   9/26/2012 3:01:47 PM
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Thanks for the info, Akwaman. Are there ways to protect the reefs from trawlers? 

akwaman
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Re: keep us updated
akwaman   9/26/2012 3:34:24 PM
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Good question, Rob, and a loaded one. Unfortunately, the best way is by intervention by governments, to create legislation that does not allow special trawling equipment designed to 'roll' over coral reefs.  Fishermen, just like most businesses and corporations, have no desire to protect the environment, they are there to make money.  We must have legislation in place that will force them to be concious of what they are doing. "Historically, industrial fishers avoided coral areas because their nets would get caught on the reefs. In the 1980s, rock-hopper trawls were invented; the large tires and rollers that were attached to the bottom of nets allow the nets to roll over any rough surface. Fifty-five percent of cold-water coral in Alaska that was damaged by one pass from a bottom trawl had not recovered a year later. In the Northeast Atlantic, there are scars up to 4 km long on the reefs from
bottom trawlers." Encyclopedia of Earth. 

We need to identify the regions where damage occurs and prevent the fishing over and around them, and outlaw the use of equipment that destroys the coral and reefs.  Coral typically grows very slowly, the fastest soft corals grow ~6 inches/yr. Most corals grow considerably slower, typically only 1/8 inch to 3/4 inch/yr.  Once destroyed or even damaged, the replacement of these corals can not keep up with the repeated destruction.  The other problem with corals, is that they usually grow on top of the skeletons of dead and dying coral, that is why the reefs continue to grow.  This process takes a very long time, and once gone, will not recover in a lifetime, or ever.

http://www.scubadiving.com/training/ask-expert/should-we-create-artificial-reefs

Rob Spiegel
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Re: keep us updated
Rob Spiegel   9/26/2012 5:20:02 PM
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Again, thanks for the info, Akwaman. I wonder how effective legislation would be. Would they actually be able to catch trawlers?

akwaman
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Re: keep us updated
akwaman   9/27/2012 8:05:18 AM
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Legislation only begins to curb the issue, Rob, especially when there is little way to control other countries, and the ocean is very big.  We can control our end by outlawing the equipment designed to be effective over reefs.  They would then stop doing it because their equipment will be ruined and/or lost.  Legislation has been proven to make a serious impact, although there will always be cheaters, and we can't police the world.

Rob Spiegel
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Re: keep us updated
Rob Spiegel   9/27/2012 10:11:36 AM
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Akwa, outlawing the equipment that is designed to go over reefs makes sense. Yet, like you say, it's a large world to police. In the meantime it's good to see alternatives such as the swarming robots are getting developed to help correct the problem. I'd love to see those robots in action.

akwaman
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Re: keep us updated
akwaman   9/27/2012 1:29:49 PM
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I really wish that would solve the problem.  Remember the story about Humpty Dumpty, you can put the pieces back together, but you may just end up with a pretty shell and no life.  I guess putting the subtrate back together again to allow new growth, but what will prevent it from happening again, and again?  To date, they haven't made a trawl that will roll over a ship very well.  Maybe this technology should be modified to fix things like damage to deep sea oil wells.

Rob Spiegel
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Re: keep us updated
Rob Spiegel   9/27/2012 2:52:12 PM
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Good point on the deep sea oil wells, Akwaman. Over time, there is bound to be more breakdowns, more spills. This technology could help.

akwaman
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Re: keep us updated
akwaman   9/27/2012 8:10:47 AM
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We could always call in Paul Watson and the Sea Shepherds... :)

Rob Spiegel
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Re: keep us updated
Rob Spiegel   9/27/2012 10:14:47 AM
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Good idea, Akwaman. We just need to duplicate them a few thousand times.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: keep us updated
Ann R. Thryft   9/19/2012 12:52:50 PM
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Chuck and others, the robots would piece together/transplant damaged bits of healthy and living, not dead, coral and re-cement them to the larger structure to help the entire structure regrow. Here's a description from a different project attempting to do something similar via human hands in shallow-, not deep-water, coral reefs: http://coastal.er.usgs.gov/coral-transplant/

The idea is to do this before a certain threshold is passed and massive, irreversible damage occurs. In Scottish case, it's probably better described as maintenance than repair.

Charles Murray
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Re: keep us updated
Charles Murray   9/18/2012 6:31:25 PM
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Cool story, Ann. I'm curious...what could these swarming robots do to re-build the reefs?

Jack Rupert, PE
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Swarming Definition
Jack Rupert, PE   9/24/2012 12:28:39 PM
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Ann - Have you seen a formal definition yet of "swarming"?  There seems to be a number of companies working on this, but where is the line currently being drawin betweens "swarms" and coordinated operation?  Is it the fact that the individual members of a swarm have no independant control and the mission is simply given to the "whole" with some type of coordinated artificial intelligence giving commands to the individual?

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Swarming Definition
Ann R. Thryft   9/24/2012 1:54:45 PM
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Jack, swarming behavior is biological and implies certain types of communication among the swarming elements. You can find more info about it here: http://www.swarms.org/

Jack Rupert, PE
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Re: Swarming Definition
Jack Rupert, PE   9/24/2012 3:10:32 PM
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Interesting site, Ann.  Thanks for posting.  Has it been your experience, then, in researching these various articles on swarming that the individual vehicles / robots are fully autonomous?

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Swarming Definition
Ann R. Thryft   9/25/2012 12:48:02 PM
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You're welcome, Jack. From what I recall, autonomy is one of the main points in swarming robots. You might want to check out some of the related posts at the end of this story for more info.

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