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Coral-repairing robots make life better down where it's wetter

Scientists have developed special robots to trawl damaged coral reefs, transplanting healthy coral as they go -- but they need your help!

Katie Collins Senior European Correspondent
Katie a UK-based news reporter and features writer. Officially, she is CNET's European correspondent, covering tech policy and Big Tech in the EU and UK. Unofficially, she serves as CNET's Taylor Swift correspondent. You can also find her writing about tech for good, ethics and human rights, the climate crisis, robots, travel and digital culture. She was once described a "living synth" by London's Evening Standard for having a microchip injected into her hand.
Katie Collins
2 min read

Like all living things, the coral that covers our ocean floors is delicate and complex, and requires a little TLC from time to time to keep it healthy and perky. In order to treat vast swathes of damaged coral, scientists at Edinburgh's Heriot-Watt University have developed special coral-repairing robots to trawl damaged reefs, transplanting healthy coral like pro surgeons as they go.

The coralbot team turned to crowd-sourcing site Kickstarter earlier this week to help fund the campaign, and are hoping to raise £70,000 before June, the BBC reports. The campaign has got of to a swimming start, with just over $10,000 (£6,712) raised so far, bringing the team to nearly 10 per cent of their overall target.

If you pledge $25 or more to the campaign you'll get your name etched on a robot, whereas more than $1,000 will get your name on a stone that will become part of the first reconstructed reef.

The transplantation method of repairing reefs is nothing new, but usually depends upon volunteer scuba divers, which is not only costly and time consuming, but also makes it impossible to fix reefs in deeper waters. That's where the coralbots come in.

The underwater robots are equipped with on-board cameras, computers, flexible arms and grips, and work in teams to distinguish coral from other objects around them using 'swarm intelligence' -- the same method large groups of insects such as bees employ in order to work together to build hives.

So far the team have tested several prototypes at sea, but are hoping to develop a model known as 'Nessie 4' to the next stage. Hit play on the video below to learn more about the heroic little 'bots.

"Kickstarter funds will let us purchase and assemble this kit, and allow us to conduct our first live demonstration of the robot team on a coral reef in a public aquarium," marine biologist and coralbot team member Lea-Anne Henry told the Beeb.

It's hoped that after the coral-bots have been tested in Edinburgh's aquarium in the autumn, they'll then be deployed to Belize on their first proper coral-repairing mission.

Are robots the future of conservation? What other Kickstarter campaigns have caught your eye recently? Swan dive down to the comments or paddle your way across to our Facebook page to let me know.