Robot Goes Fishing: Rapid, High-Resolution Biological Hotspot Mapping in Coral Reefs with Vision-Guided Autonomous Underwater Vehicles

Daniel Yang, Levi Cai, Stewart Jamieson, Yogesh Girdhar

Coral reefs are fast-changing and complex ecosystems that are crucial to monitor and study. Biological hotspot detection can help coral reef managers prioritize limited resources for monitoring and intervention tasks. Here, we explore the use of autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) with cameras, coupled with visual detectors and photogrammetry, to map and identify these hotspots. This approach can provide high spatial resolution information in fast feedback cycles. To the best of our knowledge, we present one of the first attempts at using an AUV to gather visually-observed, fine-grain biological hotspot maps in concert with topography of a coral reefs. Our hotspot maps correlate with rugosity, an established proxy metric for coral reef biodiversity and abundance, as well as with our visual inspections of the 3D reconstruction. We also investigate issues of scaling this approach when applied to new reefs by using these visual detectors pre-trained on large public datasets.

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