Bringing Biomimicry into Makerspaces

This post will expand upon Banafsheh Khakipoor and my experience at DigiFabCon (www.digifabcon.org) held in Boston, MA in March 30 – April 1, 2017. For those unfamiliar with makerspaces, they are a place where people with fabrication, computing or technology interests can gather to work on projects sharing ideas, equipment, and knowledge. The convention attendees were a mixture mostly composed of makerspace enthusiasts, educators, and professionals. DigiFabCon offered two days of lectures and a day of hands-on workshops held at local Boston makerspaces.  I will reflect upon my experience of bringing biomimicry into makerspaces in a practical manner.

Our host for the hands-on workshop was the beautifully equipped Artisan’s Asylum (www. artisansasylum.com).  Enthusiastic learners braved a late season nor’easter snow storm to attend our Nature Inspired Maker Community Workshop.  Banafsheh and I opened our workshop with a lecture introducing biomimicry and the design process.  Then we got our hands dirty!  Learners brought their own project to tackle with biomimicry, could chose a pre-made biomimicry maker project, or spend the workshop solely in the biomimicry design/brainstorm process.  The learners wanted to apply biomimicry to existing projects and they had us as personal guides through the biomimicry process.  We primarily utilized http://www.asknature.org , which is a great website that organizes nature by function and explains the phenomena for laypeople.   The learners also used internet search engines for appropriate natural models and we had access to peer-reviewed journals through the University of Akron online libraries to dig deeper into a model organism function.  We first identified the goals of the product by asking questions to hone in on where the product can be improved.  We then categorized the improvements into functions like “be more aerodynamic” or “fold into small space”.  Next we searched for natural models based on the function and listed model organism possibilities underneath the function.  We picked the best fit natural model and explored the mechanics using peer-reviewed journals and internet searches.  Finally, with the help of Artisan Asylum staff, we created a prototype for the natural model or brainstormed how the natural model would be applied in engineering.

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Learners found that the biomimicry design process was very useful in the product development and engineering stage. Given the constraints on time, most of the workshop was spent searching for natural models.  This proved valuable in that learners could take the biomimicry design process skill and apply it to future maker projects.  Even the Artisan’s Asylum staff member who was assisting us with equipment was so inspired by biomimicry that he took time to work on one of his projects with a biomimicry lens!  The learners were able to create a first version prototype during the workshop that was more bio-inspired, and perhaps future prototypes or maker designs from the attendees will make radical breakthroughs addressing engineering problems.

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