Our goal is to develop a generic approach for identifying useful biomimetic innovations. This approach involves analyzing the unique features or adaptations of living organisms, identifying the benefits they confer in their natural environment, and determining if they can be applied to solve similar human problems.
To illustrate this approach, let's consider the case of the saiga antelope and its unique nostrils or the elephant and its trunk. These features not only give the animal a unique appearance but also have a distinct specialized function related to their appearance. These adaptations confer special and unique benefits on the organism, such as the saiga antelope's nostrils which help filter out dust during migration.
Because these distinctive attributes are the most highly developed for that organism, it is often to these characteristics that we turn to for inspiration. For example, by studying the unique nostrils of the saiga antelope, we may be able to develop a new filtration system for air purification. Similarly, by studying the elephant's trunk, we may be able to develop new grasping and manipulation technologies for robots.
Here, we describe the questions that must be asked in the process of identifying useful biomimetic innovations.
- What makes this organism unique in terms of its appearance and behavior, and how does this help to distinguish it from others of a similar and different kind? For example, what are the unique features of the lungfish that set it apart from other sea creatures, as well as other species in general? What makes bats unique and different from other mammals, as well as birds?
- How do these unique adaptations benefit the animal and aid in its survival?
- Are there any complementary physiological or behavioral features that complement the adaptations? Rarely are adaptations standalone.
- How do the adaptations contribute to the following capabilities: efficiency (relating to the management of resources), resilience (management of environmental forces), and prominence (management of friendly or enemy observers)? Sometimes the same adaptations contribute to more than one capability. The three capability factors, efficiency, resilience, and prominence, are collectively called ERP factors.
- How does the presence of the adaptation affect the capability in the same or other ERP dimensions with regard to other resources/forces/observers? For example, does an adaptation designed to attract attention of a mate also likely to attract a predator's attention?
- What is the sensing and activation mechanism related to this adaptation? In other words, what does the organism need to sense or activate to make the adaptation work?
- What is poorly developed as a compensation for a highly developed capability? For example, if an animal (such as a mole) has a highly developed tactile sense, it is likely to possess poor visual sensing.
- Finally, what are the analogical applications of the adaptations and what trade-offs are involved in applying them to human problems?