Why look to biology?


The terms "biomimetic", "biomorphic", and "neuromorphic" have been applied to engineering designs which look to biology for inspiration, although the degree of loyalty to biological structure varies widely among researchers. A good engineer need be careful in choosing when a biomorphic approach is useful and applicable, and when traditional engineering provides a superior solution.

My thoughts:

Some people strongly endorse the biomorphic approach to engineering, wherein nature's successful designs and emulated to some appropriate degree by engineers looking for a solution to a difficult problem. Others question the validity of applying designs evolved in the medium of proteins and enzymes to those of silicon, metal, polymers, and such. My belief is that useful inspiration can be gained from nature's time-tested strategies. However, one has to be careful in taking only what's useful and cleanly applicable to another medium. An engineer should not neglect existing and often elegant purely engineering solutions because they fail to have an analog in biology.

  • To the biologist: Models are commonly used by scientists and engineers to enhance understanding of complex topics, and to allow modification of the parameters of the model without encountering all the complications involved in modifying the system of interest itself. I am interested in designing and building hardware models inspired by biological systems. They should interact in real time with their environment, free of the limitations of software models and the limits of our abilities to define a complete environment in software. Thus, I would like such a model to further our knowledge of the difficulties that must be overcome to create a functioning system, as well as our gaps in understanding of how nature solves the problems that baffle human scientists and engineers.
  • To the engineer: Even simple animals are able to respond to their environments in a far more robust manner than complex man-made robots. For adequate and autonomous interaction between robots and their environment, better and more numerous sensors are needed, bound by better sensor integration techniques. This is the problem I will attack for my PhD work. Furthermore, if it is to be useful, a control system must ultimately be implemented in hardware rather than simply simulated. Thus, my medium of choice will be to build actual circuits that implement the algorithms.
Last updated 11 Feb 2001
© Anna Mitros
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