Bionics – Nature’s Inspiration

bionicsAs many other notable fields, nanotechnology is directly inspired from and by nature. Jack E. Steele gave the naming, back in 1958. The term bionics derived from the ancient Greek word bion-, which means ‘a unit of life’, together with the suffix –ic, meaning ‘similar’. The complete Greek translation of bionics would sound ‘like life, or similar to life’.

The `70s added a different twist to the bionics definition through the television series The Bionic Woman and The Six Million Dollar Man, based on sci-fi literature, with super powered humans that were driven by electromechanical implants. On a more scientific and real note, nature has provided inspiration for many products which would have not existed if they were not observed in nature first.

Some examples of biomimetic are dirt and water repellent materials, paints and coatings, first observed on lotus flowers, the radar, inspired by the sonar system dolphins use to communicate, artificial adhesive outgrips on gloves, which give super powers similar to Spiderman, inspired by the gecko’s ability to climb vertically on shiny surfaces. Another classic example is the Velcro, inspired by the milimetrical hooks found on the surface of burs plant. Computer science has created terms such as artificial neurons, artificial neural networks which led to the premise of artificial intelligence.

Scientists divided the bionic inspiration from nature into three main categories:

  • the processes which mimic a particular method of manufacture
  • the mechanisms which are being found in nature
  • the principles of social organisation or natural organisms, insects and mammals

Computer viruses are the best example for the first category. Their behaviour is similar to the self reproduction and dissemination methods of spreading its sick cells into one organism.

Robotics were mainly influenced by the way animals use their bones and muscles to move.

A famous cooling system, found in the Eastgate Centre building of Harare, was designed after a termite mound, in order to achieve an efficient cooling system.