Summary: September 16, 2004
They're Robots? Those Beasts!
By SCOTT KIRSNER
JOSEPH AYERS was crouched over a laptop in a cool cinder block shed barely big enough to house a
ride-on lawn mower, watching a boxy-shelled black lobster through a rectangular acrylic window.
Dr. Ayers's shed is adjacent to a fiberglass saltwater tank that looks like a big above-ground swimming
pool, and through the window, he observed as the seven-pound lobster clambered across the sandy
bottom and struggled to surmount small rocks.
"He's pitched backwards onto his tail, and his front legs aren't really touching the ground," said Dr.
Ayers, a professor of biology at Northeastern University in Boston, sounding vexed.
A few minutes later, Dr. Ayers noticed a screw missing from one of the trio of legs extending from the
right side of the lobster's abdomen. Were this lobster not made of industrial-strength plastic, metal alloys
and a nickel metal hydride battery, Dr. Ayers - the author of several lobster cookbooks, including "Dr.
Ayers Cooks With Cognac" - seemed frustrated enough to drop the robotic lobster into a boiling pot of
water and serve it up for dinner.
Dr. Ayers was at his university's Marine Science Center on the peninsula of Nahant, which pokes out
into Massachusetts Bay. He was trying to get his robotic lobster ready for a demonstration in late
September for the military branch that funds his work, the Office of Naval Research. By then, he hopes
to have the lobster using its two claws as bump sensors.