Engineers are looking increasingly toward nature as an inspiration for technological innovation. The field of biomimetics will soon be more accessible to engineers, as scientists at the Centre for Biomimetic and Natural Technologies at the University of Bath in England are developing a "biological patent" database, wherein natural structures with potential technological significance (like the hook and loop structure that became Velcro) are archived. That a structure exists in nature, having necessarily been tested and refined in order to survive, automatically gives it a leg up on human-generated concepts. A gecko can defy gravity and crawl on the ceiling because of a weak intermolecular attraction between hair-like setae on their feet that, if reproduced synthetically, could yield revolutionary new adhesives. Robotic engineers, especially keen observers of nature, often look to animals to create a robot's pattern of motion that would enable it to negotiate terrain such as the moon too rocky to be traversed by a robot on wheels. While nature has yielded many unlikely technical advances, the Centre's Julian Vincent believes we have only scratched the surface, and that the flow of information between the biological and engineering communities needs to be reversed, so that instead of a newly discovered structure being shopped around for potential use, "biomimetics should be providing examples of suitable technologies from biology which fulfill the requirements of a particular engineering problem.
Wednesday, June 22, 2005
Economist.com reports on Technology that imitates nature.