With just a few short months left until the America’s Cup circus is over, the PR and publicity flacks and the sponsors who pay them are getting a little crazy, at least going by the latest endeavor promoted by Ben Ainslie Racing and their sponsors at 11th Hour. We’re talking about what we’re calling the Lionfish Roomba, a new underwater robotic vehicle designed to vacuum up the invasive fish from the depths around Bermuda. Chris Clarey’s NY Times profile of the new robot points out that the company behind it – RSE – was actually founded by the guy who invented the Roomba. And the chances of it actually making a dent in the exploding lionfish population? Somewhere between slim and fuck all.
The designers of the underwater Roomba say the robot will “enable the mass capture of lionfish below depths reachable by sport divers, where the population expands unchecked. At the same time, RSE will launch a crowdfunding campaign to support the final development of the robot as well as resources to bring it to market in scale.” In other words, they don’t have the money to actually create it, so they’re trying to gin up some support from wealthy sailing aficionados (while their eyes are on Bermuda) to help pay to develop it.
The problems with the new toy are numerous: First, they believe it needs to be under $1000 to be successful. Considering what a good drone costs, we’d be shocked if they can get the costs down to double that for what is essentially an underwater drone – with camera, suction, and shock treatment included – that can deal with the pressure at 400 feet below the surface. Second, their hypothesis – that the lack of predators has made lionfish easy to catch with the robot – ignores the speed with which populations adjust to new predators. Third, the numbers just don’t add up: Lionfish breed like rabbits and reach sexual maturity quickly, so you’d need an army of these suckers to accomplish anything. And an army will simply teach the fish to avoid them even more quickly. Lionfish will disappear only when fishermen have an inventive to destroy them, either through the bounties already existing in some places or via government and private subsidies. A robot vacuum ain’t gonna do it.
There’s something of a launch on April 19th in Bermuda, though we think they should have waited one more day before they splash the fish Roomba. As an idea that must have been dreamt up after a big bong rip, a 4/20 introduction would’ve been perfect!
That ends today’s biology section of Sailing Anarchy!