Coral restoration efforts usually involve transplanting tiny corals, cultivated in nurseries, on to damaged reefs.

However the work can be slow and costly, and only a fraction of the reefs at risk are getting help.

In the shallow waters of the Abrolhos Islands, [Marine biologist Taryn Foster] is testing a system she hopes will revive reefs more quickly…

It involves grafting coral fragments into small plugs, which are inserted into a moulded base. Those bases are then placed in batches on the seabed….

Ms Foster has formed a start-up firm called Coral Maker and hopes that a partnership with San Francisco-based engineering software firm Autodesk will accelerate the process further.

Their researchers have been training an artificial intelligence to control collaborative robots (cobots), which work closely alongside humans.

“Some of these processes in coral propagation are just repetitive pick and place tasks, and they’re ideally suited to robotic automation,” says Ms Foster.

A robotic arm can graft or glue coral fragments to the seed plugs. Another places them in the base, using vision systems to make decisions about how to grab it.

“Every piece of coral is different, even within the same species, so the robots need to recognise coral fragments and how to handle them,” says Nic Carey, senior principal research scientist at Autodesk.

“So far, they’re very good at handling the variability in coral shapes.”

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