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What is Biomimetics?

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  • Written By: Michael Anissimov
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  • Last Modified Date: 29 November 2016
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President Richard Nixon had an entire speech prepared in case the Apollo 11 astronauts became stranded on the Moon.  more...

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Biomimetics, sometimes known as bionics or biomimicry, is the art of taking natural adaptive strategies used by plants or animals and translating them into engineering designs that can be used to implement products or tools. Biomimetics is also a relatively recent academic field based on using these strategies, centered at the University of Bath in the UK, but with adherents everywhere. Rather than looking at it as an independent field, biomimetics is probably better described as a frame of mind that can be held by any inventor or scientist.

There are many obvious applications of biomimetics. Velcro is meant to simulate the grasping effect of plant burrs. Water and dirt-resistant paint is said to mirror the hydrophobic skin of the lotus. Fabric can be used to create an artificial canopy.

Some unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) simulate various aspects of insects used in flying and clinging to walls. Radar and sonar allegedly imitate the echolocation faculties of bats. An artificial pacemaker mimics a collection of organic pacemaker cells located next to the heart.

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Biomimetics can be said to be present in all engineering and design to the extent that we as humans are prone to be inspired by nature and life. We also see much of nature as aesthetically pleasing, and may be prone to imitate it even if there is an “unnatural” approach that serves its function better. There are also fundamental elements in any complex system that may converge in their form and function, creating unavoidable similarities in biology and technology. Biomimetics may be invoked as a way of causing environmentalist types to open up more to technology as a source of elegant solutions to everyday problems.

Other applications of biomimetics may be more cutting-edge or even futuristic compared to products like Velcro. In the past few decades, it has become possible entirely to emulate brain regions or even the entire brain of certain simplistic animals such as lobsters. This is referred to as biomimetics even if the emulation is only of scientific interest and has no concrete applications.

Large ornithopters, planes with flapping wings, have not yet been successfully flown, but will be in the near future, inspired by birds. Combat robots of the future have been portrayed as giant insectoids when on land, and giant tadpoles when in the sea. The ATATs from Star Wars look like giant elephants. More biomimetically inspired technological marvels are sure to come, both in the world of fiction and in our real world.

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ElbowTickle
Post 4

@Calvin77 - Robots has always been compared to humans. Designing their structure after us makes sense -- we can stand upright and move skillfully, why wouldn't we make something imitating our design? The reason you find human-like robots scary is probably uncanny valley -- which is when we react to robots as if they are dead.

Back to biomimetics, there are a lot of robots based on dogs too. It is way easier to get a robot to walk on all four legs instead of two. With biomimetics -- the design doesn't have to be exactly the same, we just have to use the same principle to do a similar task.

Calvin77
Post 3

I just thought that I'd say that the new bipedal robots are all based on humans. Their shape and size are similar to ours, since our design works to stay upright. They have a head, body, arms and legs.

Honda has been perfecting its “domestic robots” for several years now. You have to admit that the HRP-3 Promet MK-II looks like a science fiction horror movie villain. A lot of tiny robots, such as spy bugs, are designed after insects too – but they aren't as creepy to watch crawl around.

Jacques6
Post 2

@tanner182 - I can't find any direct reference to what inspired helicopters, but they are sometimes compared to dragonflies. Dragonflies move at amazing speeds and can move just like a helicopter -- but their wings are entirely different.

The original helicopter design goes back as far as China 400 BC. The Chinese had invented some kind of little toy that spun to the ground. So, I guess to answer your question -- as far as I can tell, humans invented the helicopter design on their own.

I'll bet it was inspired by either dragonflies or maple seeds though.

tanner182
Post 1

I remember first hearing this word in my aerospace class in highschool. My teacher was fascinated by how humans had took what nature made and turned it into things we use everyday. Velco was his example, which was created by a Swiss engineer who noticed that the burrs that stuck in his dog's fur had tiny hooks on them.

I was wondering if anyone knew what inspired the helicopter? It's such a unique and interesting invention, did man kind really just come up with it?

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