What is programming and what are algorithms? Can we foster an interest in them for anyone who finds programming to be a black box? Can biomimicry help? These are the questions I’m playing around with these days. Can reference to nature take courses in logical thinking beyond typical lessons in sequences, If/Else statements and loops? . I watched The Secret Rules Of Modern Living: Algorithms(trailer) and The Code (trailer) on Netflix over the weekend, still have to finish the code, and I kept thinking ‘wow this is brilliant! I can do this!’ I also got to know about an online course on Teaching Physical Computing with Raspberry Pi through my sponsor TIES and going through it has been very interesting (Raspberry Pi is a mini, cheap computer, not a literal raspberry pie :D, inside joke!),. It led me to Scratch which helps young people learn programming.
Next, I have been thinking; Do I want to teach programming or algorithm development. The answer seems to be easy, because a way to keep someone engaged is to have results and programming is what gives algorithms an outcome. Yet, algorithms can be developed without any computer, while programs need to be written on a computer of some sort in a language (considering analog here as well). Also, it seems to me creating a lesson is different than what I want to do, which is produce a software/piece of a machine. For example, a biomimicry lesson could be similar to an exercise on learning about birds and nesting to come up with the algorithm they use. Instead of an abstract lesson, I want to deliver something students can touch and use hopefully without much outside help. That is not to say, my deliverable cannot involve students going out and experiencing nature while working on/with my product. However, my product needs to be a software and/or a hardware that is attractive, engaging by using nature’s life lessons to teach programming/algorithms to the user.
I can see how nature is brilliant for my task; it has millions of algorithms to teach and we have been learning them for quite a while in the computer science world. My goal is to bring those lessons to the general public. At the end of The Secret Rules Of Modern Living: Algorithms movie, narrator Marcus du Sautoy mentions how our world wouldn’t function without the power of algorithms and I think that’s absolutely true! As we rely on them greatly, how can we increase everyone’s interest in them?
Market-pull innovation is driven by customer needs. Demand for a solution to a problem triggers its development. For example, the digital camera was invented because customers grew impatient waiting for film to be developed, and expressed desire to be able to view their photos instantaneously. The philosophy behind a market-pull innovation strategy is encapsulated in the familiar adage, “necessity is the mother of invention.” Problem-driven biomimicry, comprising the following five iterative steps, can support market-pull innovation:
Earlier this month, August 2016, I had the privilege of leading an evening reception for the NASA and OAI Biomimicry Summit in Cleveland, Ohio. (OAI = Ohio Aeronautical Institute). A group of 60 attendees gathered inside the Primates, Cats, and Aquatics Building of Cleveland Metroparks Zoo as we engaged in a discussion of Biomimicry in Your Backyard. I selected three common backyard critters to demonstrate how easy it is to find inspiration in the spaces around us every day: La Plata Armadillo, Eastern Box Turtle, and Children’s Python. This week’s blog will feature our one and only “Chaco” the La Plata Armadillo (Tolypeutes matacus).
As we’ve discussed before, biomimicry is accomplished by two possible methods: 1) Start with a question and look to nature for a solution, or 2) Start with an inspiring organism and discover what problems can be solved using that particular structure or behavior. Working in the zoo setting, I typically start with the latter. Whether I am preparing for our Biomimicry/Ecophysiology class within our Advanced Inquiry Program through Miami University of Ohio and Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, answering a question from one of our educators while preparing a program, or speaking at an event for Great Lakes Biomimicry, this is the case. I am given an animal and I start my research. My starting point is generally: What makes this organism unique? It is in this uniqueness that inspiration jumps out at you! I encourage all of you to try this any time you have a moment outdoors to think. It is really amazing what a person can dream up once the trigger is pulled. We will start at this point with our armadillo inspiration.
What makes an armadillo unique? Particularly, the La Plata Armadillo? I would play the Jeopardy music in the background, but I don’t think it will take you that long to come up with the answer: the carapace. The scutes are hard dermal bone with keratin—very similar to a tortoise shell. La Plata, also commonly called the 3-banded armadillo, has a shoulder plate and hip plate with dermal hinges to allow flexibility. This is the only species of armadillo that is able to roll into a complete ball, courtesy of a head plate and armored tail. The Hairy Armadillo (Chaetophractus vellerosus) contrastingly, has a soft outer shell.
The carapace offers several advantages. Most obviously, perhaps, is protection. The La Plata Armadillo is nearly impenetrable when he rolls into a ball. The only predator that could possibly open this shell needs to have opposable thumbs. However, even with this advantage, most predators would find the benefit (food) is not worth the cost (time) it takes to open. It also offers fortification measures by pinching the opposition in its hinges.
Another advantage of the carapace for this dweller of arid environments is thermal regulation. While all armadillos live in regions with temperatures between 92-97°F, the La Plata Armadillo can survive even hotter climates. One might think the shell would keep heat trapped inside the body, but the dermal hinges serve as climate control, allowing for air flow between the hinges.
Lastly, all armadillos have this really cool ability to travel across water. How?! They can hold their breath for really long periods of time. This allows them to walk on the bottom of riverbeds and waterways. What if they don’t want to walk? Like other mammals, they can suck in air and float across the water! Nothing can stop these guys from getting to the other side!
So I ask … what does the armadillo inspire in you?
Hi all, Thanks again for tuning in. I recently had the opportunity to speak at the first annual national biomimicry forum and education summit. The following is a transcript of the talk I gave including some of the associated imagery. Hope you all enjoy Fossil Doesn’t Equal Failure: Continue reading
The topic of this post was motivated by a simple question I had to ask myself twice in the last 6 months : why can’t the internet tell me how a peacock manages its own tail? For one project, I was mainly interested in folding mechanisms. In another unrelated occasion, powerful lifting was the desired feature.
Indeed, as I have been experiencing and practicing more in the biomimetic realm, through different projects with different objectives and strategies, I have been repeatedly coming across the same type of challenges. For those who are not anticipating this before diving into a biomimicry career, let me describe some.
Last week, Dr. Ashok K. Goel of the Georgia Institute of Technology (GT) visited the University of Akron. Ashok delivered a talk as part of the Integrated Bioscience Seminar Series. The topic? Cognitive Challenges of Biologically Inspired Design. Given my personal interest in the biomimicry innovation process (reminder: the focus of my dissertation is creating a piece of a procedural template that could be readily implemented by R&D managers), I was absolutely enthralled. Like a tween at a Bieber concert, I was snapping photos and kneeling on my chair for a better view.
Biomimicry is a tool/discipline that can be used in many fields ranging from industrial design, architecture, engineering, math, and even computer science. Being from a graphic design background and practicing digital painting, I find myself struggling to find exactly where biomimicry fits within the digital aesthetics realm. Can a designer/artist practice digital arts in a biomimetic way, or are the digital arts just a good tool to perform and carry out biomimetic thinking within a digital space? Surely when you are 3D modeling a biomimetic building or product on your computer, you are aiding in the biomimetic design process, but the 3D modeling process itself isn’t the thing that is biomimetic, is it? Biomimicry, in root words terms, is the act of mimicking life. How literally should we take this? Is virtual reality a sort of biomimicry because it does just that; mimics life? Maybe it’s just a useful tool to aid in the design process. These are some of the things I hope to figure out in my studies, but I’m finding as I dig deeper that when approaching biomimicry with a digital aesthetics lens, that it’s not just about the design process and appearance, but also about how using digital tools can help learn or experience something in the natural world. It is possible that, like art, digital aesthetics is particularly useful to inspire, evoke emotions, and increase understanding using the natural world as a muse. Continue reading
Addressing CRISPR and other genomic design techniques in class has made me wonder about the future of bioscience integration. Continue reading
Thank you for continuing to follow us, the biomimicry fellows, as we continue to probe the depths of nature’s solution manual in search of sustainability. I find it a little ironic that I had the privilege to kick off the school year and now I will be closing out the first semester for the new biomimicry fellows. Over the last fifteen weeks we have been endeavoring to discover more about this thing we call biomimicry. I’d like to take a second to share a few of my thoughts that have been shaped this semester. Continue reading
Having access to information about mechanistic and behavioral strategies of organisms is crucial for Biomimicry. Currently about 1.7 million species have been identified, however, that’s only a small fraction of the about 30 million species estimated to be living on earth. Even for biologists it is a hard task to abstract usable strategies to inform biomimetic designs, so for non-biologist this can become a real hurdle. Therefore, several tools have been developed to assist in ideation. Many good reviews have been published on this topic, also see the list of resources I put together a while ago.
The existence of tools doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be improved, updated and optimized. Especially with a growing understanding of biological strategies and new species being discovered, biological databases are ever-evolving tools. Recently I read “A scalable approach for ideation in biologically inspired design,” a paper presenting an automated classification approach that eliminates the time consuming task of classifying biological strategies. They are proposing that this will assist in more rapid growth of AskNature – a free to use, online bioinspiration tool that uses the Biomimicry Taxonomy to structure its database.
I decided to blog about this paper not only because the authors are researchers from Belgium (yes, I’m a little patriotic here) but also because their efforts are crucial for the further development of tools that support successful practice of biomimicry. I’m hoping that by spreading the word about their classification algorithm we can promote its further development and integration into AskNature.
Another important challenge for databases like AskNature is the limited input of biological strategies. I have to be honest, I haven’t contributed myself, yet – but after reading this paper I made myself the promise that whenever I’m reading about this super cool organism, I will check if it’s included in AskNature, and if not, I’ll contribute a page on it. All of us are reading and hearing about many inspiring examples as we practice biomimicry, so as a community of practitioners we should all work collaboratively and contribute to the growth of AskNature.
As a matter of fact, I just learned caterpillars have about 4000 muscles, while humans only have 63. I’m doing more research on the caterpillar’s musculature and how it is used before adding a page to AskNature, but I think the large number of muscles is required for caterpillars to achieve their unique wave-like motion. I can see how this could inspire new ways of robot locomotion, for example.
Cheers to collaboration across disciplines and around the globe!
Vandevenne, Dennis, et al. “A scalable approach for ideation in biologically inspired design.” Artificial Intelligence for Engineering Design, Analysis and Manufacturing 29.01 (2015): 19-31.