Biomimetics has rapidly emerged as a route to innovative technology and academic publication. Various indicators show that the growth from 1990 to the present has been exponential. Hesselberg says that the favoured methodology to date has been mechanism-driven biomimetics. This starts with an engineering problem, finds potential solutions in the natural world and uses the best as inspiration to develop an engineered product. Well-known examples are the invention of Velcro and the development of Lotus-Effect (self-cleaning) materials.
Two other biomimetic approaches are explained by the author. Both are organism-driven, where organisms are studied for their potential. One approach is focused, where there is a particular phenomenon that is considered to have commercial potential. A good example is gecko feet. The other approach is integrative, where several aspects of an organism are considered concurrently. A widely cited example of this is cockroach locomotion. The case study Hesselberg presents in his paper concerns integrative organism-driven biomimetics relating to ragworms. Despite most people knowing them only as fish bait, these animals give multi-functional inspiration to novel endoscopes, displacement pumps and multifunctional robots.
The reason for drawing attention to this paper is that biomimetics nearly always involves teams of highly skilled people. "The multidisciplinary aspect of biomimetics is very strong, with many active groups including computer scientists, physicists, chemists, and philosophers working alongside biologists and engineers." The implication is that nature's secrets are not easily revealed, and certainly not easy to mimic.
Hesselberg also notes that "the field is still lacking an analytical framework". This has set me wondering whether this is related to the influence of Darwinism within the academic world. According to Darwinism, design is only apparent. It does not reveal an intelligent agent at work. Incremental natural variations combined with natural selection are deemed to be adequate causal agents. The Darwinists themselves predict that this leads to a "tinkering" style of design, but is this what we observe? The reason why biomimetics has taken off is not because people are uncovering designs of the tinkering variety, but designs that are exquisite and holistic. This is particularly apparent in the integrative organism-driven biomimetics reviewed by Hesselberg. Biomimetics as an interdisciplinary discipline may well find that Intelligent Design is superior to Darwinism for underpinning its analytical framework.
Biomimetics and the case of the remarkable ragworms
Naturwissenschaften, Volume 94, Number 8 / August, 2007, 613-621.
Abstract: Biomimetics is a rapidly growing field both as an academic and as an applied discipline. This paper gives a short introduction to the current status of the discipline before it describes three approaches to biomimetics: the mechanism-driven, which is based on the study of a specific mechanism; the focused organism-driven, which is based on the study of one function in a model organism; and the integrative organism-driven approach, where multiple functions of a model organism provide inspiration. The first two are established approaches and include many modern studies and the famous biomimetic discoveries of Velcro and the Lotus-Effect, whereas the last approach is not yet well recognized. The advantages of the integrative organism-driven approach are discussed using the ragworms as a case study. A morphological and locomotory study of these marine polychaetes reveals their biomimetic potential, which includes using their ability to move in slippery substrates as inspiration for novel endoscopes, using their compound setae as models for passive friction structures and using their three gaits, slow crawling, fast crawling, and swimming as well as their rapid burrowing technique to provide inspiration for the design of displacement pumps and multifunctional robots.
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