What should we learn from... Biomimicry or bioinspiration

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What should we learn from... Biomimicry or bioinspiration

A special issue from IEEE Potentials in March/April 2015 gave some interesting comments on Biomimicry or Bioinspiration covering fields such as sensors networks, vision systems, health care and robot design.

From the special issue we learn that “Biomimicry, often used synonymously with “bioinspiration,” is a valid engineering approach, although in many cases naive. We contend that a broadened approach to bioinspiration, driven by a deep mechanistic understanding gained by scientific study of the natural behavior of interest, is a path toward more informed and perhaps ultimately more fruitful design. This approach differs from biomimicry by the addition of a critical step: that of analysis prior to design, where a biological behavior or property is understood with respect to its environmental, evolutionary, and social context."[1]

Another way to define the term Biomimicry/bioinspiration is in the view of digital and analog by Mohammadreza Sohbati and Christofer Toumazou. The world is analog; it is not digital. Digital is quantized at discrete levels, Boolean logics, zeroes, and ones. But biology is not like that. We do not see, hear, talk, smell, or in general think, act, or feel anything in digital. This outlook has moved back biosensor signal processing to the analog domain. Utilizing the inherent physical characteristics of semiconductor devices, by operation in analog, may allow us to approach the computational efficiency of biology. [2]

The richness of the biological world is a testament to the diversity of life, the conditions under which it can endure, and the remarkable array of robust solutions to environmental challenges. Animals have, over millions of years, evolved complex computations to parse the richness of their natural sensory milieu, as well as mechanisms to transcribe this information into appropriate motor actions.

However, the book Biomimicry for Optimization, Control, and Automation argues: “We do not care if the neural, fuzzy, expert, planning, attentive, learning, or genetic systems model their biological counterparts—we are simply trying to get ideas from how they work to solve engineering problems.... In other words, we seek inspiration from biological systems, but when it is convenient we will not follow the functionalities.” As a byproduct of this type of imitation, biology is often cited to justify certain engineering approaches or to highlight the possibility of human ingenuity to replicate nature.[1]

This may lead to another question “How could we learn more from the world?”

Children may be enamored with the beauty of the firefly, but its bioluminescence is inspiring better light-emitting diode designs. For people with limited mobility, look no further than the echolocation talents of bats and dolphins, which are being studied to create enhanced mobility devices. While wind turbines have been providing an alternative source of energy, humpback whales have proven that they hold the key to enhanced performance, as adding whale fin-like tubercules to turbines have increased their efficiency. Just image what uncovering the key to a gecko’s adhesive foot might bring.

So make that break from the classroom or lab and spend the day outdoors. Keep your eye on all that nature
has to offer. That seashell, lizard, or buzzing bee may offer the key to next-generation technology that will shape the world.[3]


[1] Manu S. Madhav and Robert W. Nickl. Mimicry or scrutiny? Striking a partnership between engineering design and biological research. IEEE Potentials. 34(2), 33-37

[2]Mohammadreza Sohbati and Christofer Toumazou. Personalized microchips for health care. IEEE Potentials. 34(2), 26-32

[3]Craig Causer. Imitation is the sincerest form of functionality. IEEE Potentials. 34(2), 6

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