Lasers and AI for healthier salmon
Finalist for the European Inventor Award 2019
In recent years, sea lice have reduced Norwegian salmon harvests by an estimated 9%, costing over €500 million in annual revenue. The marine parasites, which are typically no larger than 15 millimetres long, attach themselves to salmon, causing an open wound and, in many cases, killing the fish. Conventional delousing treatments exist but typically involve toxic chemicals or harsh water currents. They tend to release undesirable chemicals into neighbouring waters and subject farmed fish to conditions so harsh as to stunt their growth.
In 2010, inventor Esben Beck patented a machine that uses light rays to kill sea lice without harming their hosts or the environment. The Stingray® is a submersible robot about the size of a refrigerator that tracks its surroundings and emits a powerful green laser beam in the direction of its target. Onboard computers use stereoscopic cameras and image recognition software to scan nearby fish and pinpoint sea lice on their body in just 7 milliseconds. A powerful computer onboard the Stingray then models the path of the salmon in the water, directs movable mirrors to lock its laser beam onto the sea louse and fires a short pulse of intense green light. The 532-nanometer-wavelength laser is lethal to the dark-coloured parasites but reflects off the salmon's shiny scales. The Stingray can operate around the clock, killing tens of thousands of sea lice each day.
The invention offers welcome relief to Norway's €6.4 billion-salmon industry. The Stingray is helping to protect both animal welfare and an industry in which Norway remains the global market leader. Stingray Marine Solutions AS, the startup through which Beck patented and commercialised the technology, has also created 50 new jobs in Norway and posted an annual turnover of nearly €10 million in 2018.
Beck started his career as a basement-entrepreneur in a small town north of the Arctic circle. He abandoned university to set up a small company and shifted to the fish farming sector to save it from the financial crisis. After patenting the technology behind the Stingray, Beck invested his time and savings into initial prototypes and raised more than €4 million to launch the product. His technology is used in more than 150 salmon farming pens in Norway and has potential to expand both nationally and abroad.
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