BY TIMOTHY O'HARA Citizen Staff
tohara@keysnews.com

From building cars to vacuuming floors, robots have made life easier and better.


A group of engineers and MIT graduates are now proposing yet another use for robots that could take them to waters off the Florida Keys. The recently formed nonprofit RISE (Robots In Service of the Environment) are developing a prototype of a robot designed to kill invasive lionfish.

The prototype is still in the early stages, RISE Executive Director John Rizzi said. The robot works like a remote operating underwater vehicle, as it has thrusters that push it from side to side and up and down and a camera so it can be operated remotely. The only difference is the robot is fitted with technology to electrocute lionfish, Rizzi said.

The robot can be taken to depths that are difficult for divers to reach or beyond their reach. In recent years, divers have been effective at controlling lionfish populations in the more shallower nearshore waters, but not in the deep terrain.

The idea came after fellow founders of the nonprofit RISE, Colin and Erika Angle, were diving in Bermuda last fall and talked with local divers there about the lionfish problem there.

The engineers working on the prototype are ones that developed the technology for the IRobot product the Roomba vacuum and created robots for military and underwater uses, Rizzi said.

“This came out of moment and real need,” RISE Executive Director John Rizzi said. “We have some of the smartest people working on this. The process comes from previous experience. They have the experience to pull this off.”

RISE is looking to partner with such groups as the Key Largo-based REEF (Reef Environmental Education Foundation), which has organized various local lionfish derbies and conducted extensive research on lionfish.

The goal is to have the product to market by May or June of next year. The eventual goal is to make the roughly 2-foot by 3-foot robot more compact, easy to use and affordable for divers to purchase, Rizzi said.

More information on the non-profit group and the prototype can be found on the Internet at robotsise.com.

Lionfish are voracious eaters and have been known to wipe out native species of fish from their natural habitats such as reefs.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and the Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic Fishery management councils have adjusted their rules in recent years to make eradicating the invasive lionfish much easier. There is no closed season or bag and size limit for lionfish.

Another group of divers in Florida recently begun to take another creative approach to killing lionfish that is not going over well with the FWC.

The group has posted a video on the Internet called “Glock Fishing Underwater” that is going viral. In the video, divers can be seen shooting lionfish with a 9 mm handgun.

“Handguns are not an allowable gear type, even for lionfish,” FWC spokeswoman Amanda Nalley said. “We do not encourage people to use handguns to shoot lionfish.”