In the Den of the Lionfish

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Armed with a fresh cup of Colombian coffee, Ethan opened his laptop and reviewed the latest data. The numbers were looking very good. He optimistically envisioned a lot of smiles and nods from the audience at the upcoming presentation. His brief daydream was snapped by an on screen message from Unit 7. Ethan clicked the alert and a screen popped up to display the image Unit 7 was sending from its underwater location in the nearby reef. Ethan reviewed the message and easily recognized that it was a lionfish indeed. Unit 7 claimed that there were no divers in the vicinity and sent a panoramic image to support that claim. Ethan had seen enough information from the robotic submarine and clicked the confirmation button on the application page. According to Ethan’s recent numbers that action would seal the fate of this particular lionfish.

Common Lionfish

Unit 7 was one of many robotic submarines operating off the coast in an effort to control the invasive lionfish population. The environmental and economic effects of the species had reached critical levels. The robots communicated using on-board underwater modems that sent their signals to local buoys which then relayed the communication to the larger wireless network. Human operators received and sent signals to the units over the same The coverage of the swarm was coordinated by a centralized server in order to optimize coverage of the area.
Upon receiving confirmation of its current mission, Unit 7 locked in on the image of the lionfish and began its pursuit. Although the lionfish is a relentless predator and impervious to the attacks of most predators, it is not a very quick or agile swimmer. Advantage: the robotic submarine units. As Unit 7 closed within four feet of its target, it algorithmically analyzed the swimming pattern of its target and fired the small harpoon with a burst of compressed air. The tethered harpoon pierced the fish. As the fish struggled, the Unit 7 moved towards the surface and relayed an indication of its achievement. The message was a request for a rendezvous with a differently purposed robotic vehicle in the area: one that would transport the captured fish to the base station.

Upon rendezvous, Unit 7 and the transport carried out their aquatic choreography. The transport spotted the captured fish in tow and extend a sinewy hand that collapsed around the fish almost like a mechanical Venus flytrap leaf. With a quick signal to the harpoon, the barb was retracted and the submarine retracted the tether carrying it. The transports end effector pivoted towards the service and tossed the fish into its central storage unit designed to adequately preserve it. Although the fin rays of the fish are venomous, it is edible if prepared properly. There were several local charities that were benefiting from the captured fish.
The fleet of robotic submarines were part of a larger effort that utilized mobile robots to control invasive species across the country. When the public was made aware of the efforts there was some level of trepidation towards the thought of semi-autonomous robots hunting their prey amid the residents. It took some trials, time, and numbers to substantiate the proclaimed safety of the robots in general. One of the most attractive aspects of the robot programs was the “global off switch”. More organic control methods involved the introduction of species and substances, but those approaches ran the risk of introducing a new imbalance to the environment. Conversely, once their goal numbers were met, the robots would be switched off and removed with no ongoing impact or evidence of their historic presence.
This was the second killing for Unit 7 in the past hour. It returned to the floating base station and docked for a well-deserved inductive recharge.
Back at his desk, Ethan received a text message from his friend, Thomas, who was managing a team of land-based robots that were hunting Burmese pythons in the Miami-Dade area. The message included a picture of Mongoose Nine with its latest capture.

1 thought on “In the Den of the Lionfish

  1. joeyzero Post author

    I happened to write this story about a year before Colin Anlge (iRobot) announced his plans to address the problem of lionfish with robots.
    Now I’m very excited to watch the progress of his non-profit effort:



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