Biomimetics: A Brief Overview

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14 Νοε 2013 (πριν από 3 χρόνια και 11 μήνες)

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Biomimetics: A Brief Overview
by Alexis Rodriguez-Carlson

The term “biomimetics” means to mimic nature. The main goal of a biomimetic
project is a design based on forms and behaviors found in nature. Using existing designs
instead of developing new ones is not a new concept. Automobile manufacturers do not
create new car models by reinventing the wheel; they start with an existing design and
improve upon it. The essential difference is that in biomimetics the original designer is
nature. Biomimetics is about striving to meet an engineering goal by discovering and
imitating the way nature has already solved that problem.
One example is steering an aircraft. Pilots have an array of instruments and gages
to make sure they know the exact altitude the plane is at, the speed and direction it is
traveling and what is in its path. Birds, insects, and bats, however, do the same thing
without any instrumentation; some even manage without the sense of sight. When
artificial methods fail it is for the engineer to look at nature and say, “how does that
work?”
One team in France is beginning to answer that question. They have developed
two Automatic Flight Control Systems (AFCSs) to steer Micro Aviation Vehicles
(MAVs). MAVs are flying structures whose largest dimension is fifty centimeters or
less. As of yet there have not been any resounding successes in developing MAVs and
that is largely due to weight. Once the craft has a power supply and all necessary sensors
to provide information to the control system it is too heavy to fly. Frank Ruffier,
Stephane Viollet, and Nicolas Franceschini were intrigued by the fact that insects fly
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without most of the information that sensors collect. Their curiosity has resulted in two
Elementary Motion Detectors (EMDs) that have successfully and consistently kept an
MAV flying at a uniform distance from the ground without any information about
altitude or speed available on the vehicle.
Humans have been trying to fly for hundreds of years, and Leonardo da Vinci’s
flying machines are well known examples of early attempts at biomimetics. Studying the
design below reveals the obvious; da Vinci began with the idea of a bird wing to design
he wing for human flight. He even tried to recreate the bone structure.


Leonardo da Vinci’s sketch for an articulated wing

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The quest to imitate nature has not been restricted to flight. Gustave Eiffel
designed the base of the Eiffel Tower after the human femur, and George de Mestral was


so inspired by the seeds of a burdock plant that he invented Velcro. It is the technology
that is now available to engineers that is taking biomimetics to the next level. In da
Vinci’s time, it was possible to imitate the construction of a bird’s wing structurally, but
he could not mimic the chemical or atomic nature. With today’s tools, an engineer can
study everything from the physical construction to the chemical bonds that hold that
structure together.
In addition to animals, various substances can also serve as natural teachers. It is
possible to develop bullet proof body armor that is lighter and stronger than current
models, potentially saving the thousands of lives. All engineers need to do is replicate
the flexible strength of Mother of Pearl. Mother of Pearl may be one the strongest
substances (by weight) that has been studied. It is mostly made of chalk, yet it can
withstand heavy hits with very little damage, often bending slightly instead of breaking.
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Scientists have wondered how it is possible that something appearing to be relatively
brittle can be so durable. The answer lies in the shell’s molecular structure. The shell
consists of millions of tiny tiles (approximately 10 µm across by 0.5 µm thick) that sit in
layers one on top of another. The tops and bottoms of these tiles are fused on a molecular
level however the sides are not bonded. This configuration allows tiles to slip past each
other when the shell receives a blow, allowing it to flex instead of break. The technology
already exists, it is just a matter of reverse engineering nature’s design, one which has
been tested and refined for thousands of years.
Of course, copying nature is not an easy task. Nature did not leave blueprints to
follow. Often it is easier to try controlling the natural process without actually recreating
it. Doctors and bio-engineers do not yet know how the body grows bones, but they have
figured out a way to coax the body into growing them on demand. At Advanced
Ceramics Research in Tucson, Arizona, a team has created a method to replace badly
damaged bones. For example, when an arm bone is badly crushed, CAT scans and MRIs
are taken of the bone in the other arm to determine its size and shape. From these images
they create a mold to cast a new “bone” made of polymer and coated with a layer of
calcium phosphate that contains micro-pores. Bone cells attach themselves to the coating
and eventually destroy the polymer bone, leaving behind a real-live bone as good as the
original. This process, though successful on animals, has yet to be tried on humans.
Biomimetics is a field with endless possibilities. New developments could be
marketed to the military, NASA and the aerospace industry, agriculture, and anyone who
is interested in more efficient designs. The most profitable area will likely be medical
technology. To learn more about this subject refer to the following articles:
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“Visual control of two arial micro-robots by insect-based autopilots.” By Frank Ruffer;
Stephane Viollet, and Nicolas Franceschini. http://search.epnet.com/
.
This article is highly technical but still readable. The team discusses the two
Elementary Motion Detectors they developed based on the eye of the common housefly.
It is a good example of how an issue that is daunting to humans has been solved by
evolution.

“Medical Materials.” http://wilsonweb2.hwwilson.com/autologin
.
Different facets of medicine have benefited from biomimetic technology; this
article gives examples from bone replacement to better prosthetics. It also gives
suggestions of places to look for more information on the different topics. The language
is easy to understand with little medical or engineering knowledge.

“Biomimetic Mineralization of Charged Collagen Matrices: In Vitro and In Vivo Study.”
by Gilberto Goissis, Silvana Vargas da Silva Maginador, and Virginia da
Conceição Amaro Martins. http://search.epnet.com/
.
Also medically based, this article discusses efforts to solve the problems of
repairing the body with artificial fibers and structures using natural polymers such as
collagen. A fascinating example of how advantageous biomimetics can be.

“Creepy crawlies to explore other worlds” by Lewis Dartnell. http://search.epnet.com/
.
A very readable report of the development of biomimetic inspired robots to
explore outer space. Another angle on the robotic potential of biomimetics.
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