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May 2017    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 43, No. 5   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Can Robots Take on the Lionfish Menace? A Kickstarter Campaign to Find Out

from the May, 2017 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

It's been thirty-plus years since the invasive Indo- Pacific lionfish was first found in the Atlantic. While eating everything in sight and having no predators, they are reproducing so fast that they have overwhelmed reefs from Florida south to Venezuela and west to Belize.

Can robots wipe them out? Colin Angle, a diver and the CEO of iRobot (the manufacturer of the Roomba robot vacuum cleaner), and his biochemist wife, Erika, thought, "Why not?" although they noted that spending half-a-million dollars to create a robot that kills ten lionfish seemed "absurd."

So, they proceeded to create a submersible robot, the Guardian LF1, which stuns but doesn't kill the lionfish before it sucks them into a holding tank. When filled with unconscious fish, the robot rises to the surface where a fisherman can unload the catch and deliver them to waiting restaurants and food stores. After all, the lionfish has proved to be "mighty fine eating."

To get robots into the hands of fishermen, they have created the non-profit Robots in Service of the Environment ( and launched a Kickstarter campaign hoping to raise $25,000, enough to complete the development and be able to deliver these robots to local fishermen at less than $1,000 each.

"Ultimately, the control of this device is like a PlayStation game: you're looking at the screen and using a joystick controller. Zap it, catch it, do it again," according to RSE Executive Director John Rizzi, who said that a team of unpaid volunteers has been working on the prototype for more than a year.

Lionfish inhabit deep water off Bermuda, beyond recreational diving depths, so that was where the need for and development of the robot began. A fully functioning prototype was demonstrated in Bermuda to the premier of that island nation, the Hon. Michael H. Dunkley, on April 18, and unveiled to the public the following day at the EatLionfish Chef's Throwdown.

To learn more about the campaign and see what gifts they offer in return for your support, visit

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