Researchers spent months developing the machine-learning system and training the autonomous underwater vehicle to recognize the starfish accurately by showing it images of COTS and non-COTS. Researchers claim the robot identified its target 99.4% of the time in laboratory tests, even ignoring 3D-printed decoys.

Scientists have been turning to robots and, in some cases, even drones, to overcome the limitation of human divers, get a better understanding of the sea, and boost conservation efforts. The US Navy recently funded a drone, which they call the “Naviator,” that can swim as well as fly. Researchers hope to use the drone to monitor oil spills and defuse underwater mines but for now, it remains tethered to its controls.

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