Discovery Channel Visits LU for Lionfish Project

students tristen harris and mahdi safa present their robot to the discovery channel host

A film crew from Discovery Channel Canada visited the LU campus to capture the progress made by researchers in the Phillip M. Drayer Department of Electrical Engineering on an innovative lionfish-hunting robot.

Lamar’s team is working on this lionfish project—its purpose being a means of identifying Lionfish in the wild so that divers can go down and capture them or do whatever they need to do,” Discovery Channel project director Christine Mayall said. “It’s really interesting because on one hand you have the robotics, but you also have the computer science aspect to it—how they’ve been able to have this robot identify the lionfish, something that seems very complicated because of its intricate patterns.”

Native to the Pacific, the lionfish grew from an unintentional or inadvertent release of as few as eight females off the Florida coast in the 1980s to a scourge along the eastern seaboard of the U.S., throughout the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. Today, they threaten to collapse entire reef ecosystems and cause incalculable losses for sport and commercial fisheries. Venomous, voracious, and seemingly unstoppable, the lionfish can be called the perfect storm among invasive species.

the lionfish examples used to test the robot in the lamar pool“This fish will eat practically whatever it can fit in its mouth and lacks natural enemies,” Harley Myler, the William B. and Mary G. Mitchell Endowed Chair in Engineering and chair of the Phillip M. Drayer Department of Electrical Engineering, said. Myler’s team, including assistant professor Hassan Zargarzadeh, doctoral student Mahdi Naddaf and undergraduate students, have been working since January of last year on the remote-operated vehicle.

“Mahdi Naddaf has spent hundreds of days and nights on this project,” Zargarzadeh said. They are currently working to test and refine the technology on campus using models in the indoor pool. For now, they hope to improve the recognitive ability of the robots to single out lionfish. In the future, however, they are optimistic that the robots can be deployed in swarms in varied habitats of the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary.

tristan and mahdi show the results from the camera of their robot“The project is important because of how it affects the ecosystem of the U.S. Coastal waters in the Gulf and Atlantic,” Tristen Harris, undergraduate electrical engineering major and student researcher said. “I am confident that reaching a large audience will help our project and our department by gaining good publicity, but more importantly, I hope it will get people to recognize the problem posed by lionfish.”

“Ultimately, it’s about using science and technology for good in the world—for bigger things. And this project fits,” Mayall said.