Researchers Build Arduino-Powered Robot for Scanning Coral Reefs

©. Scubo

Researchers at ETH Zurich in Switzerland have built a robot named Scubo that may be one of the best ocean exploring robots ever built. The small robot packs has six onboard cameras that can capture images and video from any angle and it will eventually be used by scientists and citizen scientists alike.

The first, most pressing mission for Scubo is documenting coral reefs around the world. Coral reefs make up a small percentage of marine habitat, but they are home to 25 percent of known fish species as well as many other animals like sea turtles and cephalopods. Unfortunately, warming seas and ocean acidification is wreaking havoc on corals and these important ecosystems are shrinking.

The good news is that scientists are working on programs for restoring coral reefs. Coral species are raised in labs and then settled in reefs. These programs require constant monitoring and measuring of the existing coral reef and the new corals, which can take divers many hours to complete.

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© Scubo

The team that created Scubo wanted scientists to have a tool that could scan entire coral reefs in a short amount of time without divers ever entering the water. The Arduino-powered Scubo can be driven is omnidirectional meaning it can turn and go in any direction and the onboard tools can be controlled by a person wearing virtual reality googles or by a joystick connected to a laptop. The robot can be connected by tether to a computer and power source onboard a boat on the surface for long explorations. Without use of the tether, Scubo's battery could last for two hours before needing a recharge and can receive commands from a linked computer.

The connected computer can use the captured images to build 3D models of the environment and lets scientists see what the robot is discovering in real time.

The underwater robot is modular with five universal ports for connecting almost any type of sensor so that depending on the researchers' needs, the robot can gather different types of data about the marine environment.

The robot was built with coral reefs in mind, but it can also be used to explore other bodies of water or even by citizen scientists to check out their closest body of water. You can see more about the robot below.