A voracious and venomous apex predator is wreaking havoc up and down the East Coast and throughout the Caribbean. To fight it, we need a fleet of state-of-the-art robots that can venture into spaces beyond the reach of humanity.
Creating such a fleet is real work for Orin Hoffman ’01, chief roboticist for the Lionfish Project. Native to the Indian and Pacific Oceans, lionfish began appearing in the western Atlantic in the 1980s and have since multiplied rapidly from Rhode Island down to South America and out to Bermuda, devouring dozens of other species and throwing off the ecological balance of coral reefs.
No other sea creature in the region eats lionfish—but people can, and increasing human consumption of the fish may be the key to keeping their population in check. “ ‘You gotta eat ’em to beat ’em’—that’s our slogan,” says Hoffman, who finds lionfish “delicious.”
But many lionfish dwell deeper than fishermen can reach through traditional means. That’s where the robots come in. While working for iRobot, Hoffman teamed up with the corporation’s CEO, Colin Angle, and others to launch the nonprofit Robots in Service of the Environment, whose current focus is the Lionfish Project.
The goal is to design a lionfish-catching robot that is easy for fishermen to afford, deploy and repair. With financial support from the Boston Aquarium and the government of Bermuda, among other organizations, Hoffman and a team of volunteer roboticists in the Boston area have developed prototypes and tested them off the Bermuda and Florida coasts.