Biomimetic Underwater Robot Program

Joseph Ayers
Principal Investigator
Marine Science Center

East Point, Nahant, MA 01908
(781) 581-7370
FAX: (781) 581-6076

Google Scholar Citations
NSF/EPSRC Synthetic Biology Sandpit
Bowerman and Larimer Command Neuron Movies
Design Life Now: RoboLobster At the Smithsonian
Technology Transfer
Online Lectures
IDEAS Boston
TEDx Berkshires
New Phytologist Synthetic Biology Workshop

Jan Witting Photography

Three Generations of Lobster Robots
ONR HiRes Images

Brian Tucker Bresnahan Photography
Biomimetic Robots

We are developing neurotechnology based on the neurophysiology and behavior of animal models. We developed two classes of biomimetic autonomous underwater vehicles (see above). The first is an 8-legged ambulatory vehicle that is based on the lobster and is intended for autonomous remote-sensing operations in rivers and/or the littoral zone ocean bottom with robust adaptations to irregular bottom contours, current and surge. The second vehicle is an undulatory system that is based on the lamprey and is intended for remote sensing operations in the water column with robust depth/altitude control and high maneuverability. These vehicles are based on a common biomimetic control, actuator and sensor architecture that features highly modularized components and low cost per vehicle. Operating in concert, they can conduct autonomous investigation of both the bottom and water column of the littoral zone or rivers. These systems represent a new class of autonomous underwater vehicles that may be adapted to operations in a variety of habitat


We are collaborating with investigators at The University of California, The University of Alabama and Newcastle University to apply principles of synthetic biology to the integration of a hybrid microbot. The aim of this research is to construct Cyberplasm, a micro-scale robot integrating microelectronics with cells in which sensor and actuator genes have been inserted and expressed. This will be accomplished using a combination of cellular device integration, advanced microelectronics and biomimicry; an approach that mimics animal models; in the latter we will imitate some of the behavior of the marine animal the sea lamprey. Synthetic muscle will generate undulatory movements to propel the robot through the water. Synthetic sensors derived from yeast cells will be reporting signals from the immediate environment. These signals will be processed by an electronic nervous system. The electronic brain will, in turn, generate signals to drive the muscle cells that will use glucose for energy. All electronic components will be powered by a microbial fuel cell integrated into the robot body.

This research aims to harness the power of synthetic biology at the cellular level by integrating specific gene parts into bacteria, yeast and mammalian cells to carry out device like functions. Moreover this approach will allow the cells/bacteria to be simplified so that the input/output (I/O) requirements of device integration can be addressed. In particular we plan to use visual receptors to couple electronics to both sensation and actuation through light signals. In addition synthetic biology will be carried out at the systems level by interfacing multiple cellular /bacterial devices together, connecting to an electronic brain and in effect creating a multi-cellular biohybrid micro-robot. Motile function will be achieved by engineering muscle cells to have the minimal cellular machinery required for excitation/contraction coupling and contractile function. The muscle will be powered by mitochondrial conversion of glucose to ATP, an energetic currency in biological cells, hence combining power generation with actuation.

We are collaborating with investigators at Harvard University School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering and CentEye to develop colonies of Robotic Bees. This project integrates approaches at the body, brain and colony level. Inspired by the biology of a bee and the insectÕs hive behavior, we aim to push advances in miniature robotics and the design of compact high-energy power sources; spur innovations in ultra-low-power computing and electronic smart sensors; and refine coordination algorithms to manage multiple, independent machines

Electronic Nervous Systems

We are also developing neuronal circuit based controllers for both robots and neurorehabilitative devices. These controllers are based on

UCSD Electronic Neurons and

and UCSD Discrete Time Map-based neurons.



Al Selverston, Marine Science Center
Jan Witting, Sea Education Associates


Ben Doyle, Northeastern University
Andy Kong, Northeastern University
Lara McGrath, Bucknell University
Ryan Myers, Northeastern University
Lin Zhu, Nanjing University


Annie Nunter
John Nguyen
Natalie Kukshtel

Neurotechnology for Biomimetic Robots
Biomechanisms of Swimming and Flying

Boston Globe Magazine
Associated Press
New Scientist
Discover magazine
KQED: Springboard
Information Week
Learn About Robots
IEEE Computer Magazine
Technology Trends
Signal Magazine
NextFest 2005
Fast Company
The Economist
Mass High Tech
Science Magazine
Science Magazine Article
Science Magazine Sidebar
Robo sapiens
Mechanical Engineering Magazine
Artificial Ethology
Free Republic
Worth Magazine
Wall Street Journal
New York Times
ABC News
BusinessWeek Online
IDEAS Boston 2008
Boston Globe Robots

Quicktime VR View of the Ayers Robotics Laboratory

On Line Animations of Biomimetic Systems
Lamprey Robot
Lobster Robot

Related Links

Relevant Publications

Supported by

ITR Expeditions
Synthetic Biology Sandpit


Office of Naval Research

(Page last changed 9/20/2010)