Ariel Photo

Bi-o-mi-met-ics, n., the use of living creatures as inspiration for machines [hist., 1995, Amer.]

Just below the surface of a reservoir outside Boston, robot Ariel walks sideways like the crab it is patterned on. A machine with a serious purpose, it is designed to scuttle from the shore through the surf to search for mines on the ocean floor. Ariel was funded by the Defense Advanced research Projects Agency and built by iRobot, a company founded by MIT robot guru Rodney Brooks. Inspired by research on crabs at Robert Full's lab at Berkeley, Ariel takes advantage of the animal's stability - and improves on it. Unlike real crabs, which must struggle to right themselves if a wave flips them on their backs, the robot simply reorients itself and keeps walking with its body upside down. But despite its abilities, the technician in charge of the machine, Ed Williams, supervises Ariel's excursions with great anxiety - the machine still gets stuck when it encounters big rocks. "Robots can't do much now," he says, philosophically, "but airplanes couldn't do much in 1910.

Origin of Name
Main character in the movie The Little Mermaid
To find mines
Creative Inspiration
Biological inspiration from crabs. Engineering inspiration from limitations of previous robots.

9 cm, stands 15 cm
55 cm (main body); 115 cm (including outrigger arms for compass and inclinometers)

11 kg
Motor position, foot contact, pressure (underwater), flow (underwater), compass, inclinometer, metal detectors
Frame Composition
Anodized aluminum

22 NiCd cells
External Power
Optional (while recharging batteries)


$50,000 (materials only)
Project Status
Information Source
John Aspinall