Robots Reach Greater Depths


The people who brought you Roomba, the automatic vacuum cleaner, are now sending a new robot into the seas to clean up invasive lionfish. Lionfish look very cool, but as incomers in the Atlantic they prey on fish that clean reefs. With no predators in that habitat, they’re doing significant harm.

An organization called Robots in Service of the Environment (RISE) has a project to cut down on the number of lionfish. By creating robot predators, they hope to get the Atlantic ecosystem back to a more normal balance. Importing predators for invasive species can end up like the old woman who swallowed a fly — and then had to swallow a spider to catch the fly, and a whole bunch more animals to catch all the creatures that had gone before them.

Robots, it is hoped, will not have this effect.

iRobot is one of 30 organizations, including the government of Bermuda, in the RISE consortium.

The robot swims up to lionfish, and the lionfish are too inexperienced with predators to run away. The robot delivers an electric shock and gathers the lionfish into a sort of basket and brings it to the surface. The robot operates along the lines of a sea anemone. It is able to go much deeper than human divers safely can.

Automation is designed to solve human problems and keep human beings out of dangerous situations, so this innovative project is an excellent example of classic use of automation. Will it have unforeseen consequences? Sometimes that happens.

But it’s also a great example of innovative use of motion control. The sensors and servos used are all ordinary robotics components. The project didn’t require any amazing new technology, just new ways of thinking about existing technology. This is what is making the big difference in industrial robotics, too. While there are new technologies being developed every day, many of the classic methods and components of industrial motion control have great untapped potential.

As we watch this big tech story unfold, we can also help you with your classic industrial motion control technology. Rexroth electric drives and controls are our specialty.

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