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A cockroach swinging back to escape
A gecko displaying the same behaviour
A robot imitating the animals.
Robot behaviour (bottom) modeled after that of a cockroach (top) and a gecko (middle).

Bionics is the application of biological methods and systems found in nature to the study and design of engineering systems and modern technology.[1]

The word bionic was coined by Martin Caidin, which was itself influenced by Steele's work. All feature humans given superhuman powers by electromechanical implants.

The lotus flower plant is practically unsticky for anything (the lotus effect)..

Ekso Bionics is currently developing and manufacturing intelligently powered exoskeleton bionic devices that can be strapped on as wearable robots to enhance the strength, mobility, and endurance of soldiers and paraplegics.

The term "biomimetic" is preferred when reference is made to chemical reactions. In that domain, biomimetic chemistry refers to reactions that, in nature, involve biological macromolecules (for example, enzymes or nucleic acids) whose chemistry can be replicated using much smaller molecules in vitro.

Examples of bionics in engineering include the hulls of boats imitating the thick skin of dolphins; sonar, radar, and medical ultrasound imaging imitating the echolocation of bats.

In the field of computer science, the study of bionics has produced artificial neurons, artificial neural networks,[2] and swarm intelligence. Evolutionary computation was also motivated by bionics ideas but it took the idea further by simulating evolution in silico and producing well-optimized solutions that had never appeared in nature.

It is estimated by Julian Vincent, professor of biomimetics at the University of Bath's department of mechanical engineering Biomimetics group, that "at present there is only a 12% overlap between biology and technology in terms of the mechanisms used".[3]


  • History 1
  • Methods 2
  • Examples 3
  • Specific uses of the term 4
    • In medicine 4.1
    • Politics 4.2
    • Other uses 4.3
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • Sources 7


The name biomimetics was coined by The Six Million Dollar Man. Caidin was a long-time aviation industry writer before turning to fiction full-time.


Velcro was inspired by the tiny hooks found on the surface of burs.

Often, the study of bionics emphasizes implementing a function found in nature rather than just imitating biological structures. For example, in computer science, cybernetics tries to model the feedback and control mechanisms that are inherent in intelligent behavior, while artificial intelligence tries to model the intelligent function regardless of the particular way it can be achieved.

The conscious copying of examples and mechanisms from natural organisms and ecologies is a form of applied case-based reasoning, treating nature itself as a database of solutions that already work. Proponents argue that the selective pressure placed on all natural life forms minimizes and removes failures.

Although almost all engineering could be said to be a form of biomimicry, the modern origins of this field are usually attributed to Buckminster Fuller and its later codification as a house or field of study to Janine Benyus.

Roughly, we can distinguish three biological levels in the fauna or flora, after which technology can be modeled:

  • Mimicking natural methods of manufacture
  • Imitating mechanisms found in nature (velcro)
  • Studying organizational principles from the flocking behaviour of birds, optimization of ant foraging and bee foraging, and the swarm intelligence (SI)-based behaviour of a school of fish.


  • In robotics, bionics and biomimetics are used to apply the way animals move to the design of robots. BionicKangaroo was based on the movements and physiology of kangaroos.
  • burrs clung to the fur.
  • The horn-shaped, saw-tooth design for lumberjack blades used at the turn of the 19th century to cut down trees when it was still done by hand was modeled after observations of a wood-burrowing beetle. It revolutionized the industry because the blades worked so much faster at felling trees.
  • Cat's eye reflectors were invented by Percy Shaw in 1935 after studying the mechanism of cat eyes. He had found that cats had a system of reflecting cells, known as tapetum lucidum, which was capable of reflecting the tiniest bit of light.
  • Leonardo da Vinci's flying machines and ships are early examples of drawing from nature in engineering.
  • Resilin is a replacement for rubber that has been created by studying the material also found in arthropods.
  • Julian Vincent drew from the study of pinecones when he developed in 2004 "smart" clothing that adapts to changing temperatures. "I wanted a nonliving system which would respond to changes in moisture by changing shape", he said. "There are several such systems in plants, but most are very small — the pinecone is the largest and therefore the easiest to work on". Pinecones respond to higher humidity by opening their scales (to disperse their seeds). The "smart" fabric does the same thing, opening up when the wearer is warm and sweating, and shutting tight when cold.
  • "Morphing aircraft wings" that change shape according to the speed and duration of flight were designed in 2004 by biomimetic scientists from Penn State University. The morphing wings were inspired by different bird species that have differently shaped wings according to the speed at which they fly. In order to change the shape and underlying structure of the aircraft wings, the researchers needed to make the overlying skin also be able to change, which their design does by covering the wings with fish-inspired scales that could slide over each other. In some respects this is a refinement of the swing-wing design.
Lotus leaf surface, rendered: microscopic view
  • Some paints and roof tiles have been engineered to be self-cleaning by copying the mechanism from the Nelumbo lotus.[4]
  • glass fiber.
  • The wing structure of the blue morpho butterfly was studied and the way it reflects light was mimicked to create an RFID tag that can be read through water and on metal.[5]
  • The wing structure of butterflies has also inspired the creation of new nanosensors to detect explosives.[6]
  • Technoecosystems or 'EcoCyborg' systems involve the coupling of natural ecological processes to technological ones which mimic ecological functions. This results in the creation of a self-regulating hybrid system.[7] Research into this field was initiated by Howard T. Odum,[8] who perceived the structure and emergy dynamics of ecosystems as being analogous to energy flow between components of an electrical circuit.
  • Medical adhesives involving glue and tiny nano-hairs are being developed based on the physical structures found in the feet of geckos.
  • Computer viruses also show troubling similarities with biological viruses in their way to curb program-oriented information towards self-reproduction and dissemination.
  • The cooling system of the Eastgate Centre building, in Harare was modeled after a termite mound to achieve very efficient passive cooling.
  • Adhesive which allows mussels to stick to rocks, piers and boat hulls inspired bioadhesive gel for blood vessels.[9]
  • Through the field of bionics, new aircraft designs with far greater agility and other advantages may be created. This has been described by Geoff Spedding and Anders Hedenström in an article in Journal of Experimental Biology. Similar statements were also made by John Videler and Eize Stamhuis in their book Avian Flight [10] and in the article they present in Science about LEVs.[11] John Videler and Eize Stamhuis have since worked out real-life improvements to airplane wings, using bionics research. This research in bionics may also be used to create more efficient helicopters or miniature UAVs. This latter was stated by Bret Tobalske in an article in Science about Hummingbirds.[12] Bret Tobalske has thus now started work on creating these miniature UAVs which may be used for espionage. UC Berkeley as well as ESA have finally also been working in a similar direction and created the Robofly [13] (a miniature UAV) and the Entomopter (a UAV which can walk, crawl and fly).[14]

Specific uses of the term

In medicine

Bionics is a term which refers to the flow of concepts from biology to engineering and vice versa. Hence, there are two slightly different points of view regarding the meaning of the word.

In medicine, bionics means the replacement or enhancement of prostheses by mimicking the original function very closely, or even surpassing it.

Bionics' German equivalent, Bionik, always adheres to the broader meaning, in that it tries to develop engineering solutions from biological models. This approach is motivated by the fact that biological solutions will usually be optimized by evolutionary forces.

While the technologies that make bionic implants possible are still in a very early stage, a few bionic items already exist, the best known being the cochlear implant, a device for deaf people. By 2004 fully functional artificial hearts were developed. Significant further progress is expected to take place with the advent of nanotechnologies. A well-known example of a proposed nanodevice is a respirocyte, an artificial red cell, designed (though not built yet) by Robert Freitas.

Kwabena Boahen from Ghana was a professor in the Department of Bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania. During his eight years at Penn, he developed a silicon retina that was able to process images in the same manner as a living retina. He confirmed the results by comparing the electrical signals from his silicon retina to the electrical signals produced by a salamander eye while the two retinas were looking at the same image.

In 2007 the Scottish company Touch Bionics launched the first commercially available bionic hand, named "i-Limb Hand". According to the firm, by May 2010 it has been fitted to more than 1,200 patients worldwide.[15]

The Nichi-In group is working on biomimicking scaffolds in tissue engineering, stem cells and regenerative medicine have given a detailed classification on biomimetics in medicine.[16]

On 21 July 2015, the BBC’s medical correspondent Fergus Walsh reported, "Surgeons in Manchester have performed the first bionic eye implant in a patient with the most common cause of sight loss in the developed world. Ray Flynn, 80, has dry age-related macular degeneration which has led to the total loss of his central vision. He is using a retinal implant which converts video images from a miniature video camera worn on his glasses. He can now make out the direction of white lines on a computer screen using the retinal implant." The implant, known as the Argus II and manufactured in the US by the company Second Sight Medical Products, had been used previously in patients who were blind as the result of the rare inherited degenerative eye disease retinitis pigmentosa.[17]


A political form of biomimicry is bioregional democracy, wherein political borders conform to natural ecoregions rather than human cultures or the outcomes of prior conflicts.

Critics of these approaches often argue that ecological selection itself is a poor model of minimizing manufacturing complexity or conflict, and that the free market relies on conscious cooperation, agreement, and standards as much as on efficiency – more analogous to sexual selection. Charles Darwin himself contended that both were balanced in natural selection – although his contemporaries often avoided frank talk about sex, or any suggestion that free market success was based on persuasion, not value.

Advocates, especially in the anti-globalization movement, argue that the mating-like processes of standardization, financing and marketing, are already examples of runaway evolution – rendering a system that appeals to the consumer but which is inefficient at use of energy and raw materials. Biomimicry, they argue, is an effective strategy to restore basic efficiency.

Biomimicry is also the second principle of Natural Capitalism.

Other uses

University of Bath[18] the approach was launched at the House of Lords in May 2009.

In a more specific meaning, it is a evolution. In chemistry, a biomimetic synthesis is a chemical synthesis inspired by biochemical processes.

Another, more recent meaning of the term bionics refers to merging organism and machine. This approach results in a hybrid system combining biological and engineering parts, which can also be referred as a cybernetic organism (Kevin Warwick's implant experiments bringing about ultrasound input via his own nervous system.

See also


  1. ^ Twenty-First Century's Fuel Sufficiency Roadmap By Dr. Steve Esomba, Published 2012
  2. ^ Research Interests. Retrieved on 2011-04-23.
  3. ^ Vincent, J. F. V., Bogatyreva, O. A., Bogatyrev, N. R., Bowyer, A. and Pahl, A.-K. (2006). "Biomimetics—its practice and theory". Journal of the Royal Society Interface 3 (9): 471–482.  
  4. ^ Sto Lotusan — Biomimicry Paint. TreeHugger. Retrieved on 2011-04-23.
  5. ^ RFID Through Water and on Metal with 99.9% Reliability (Episode 015), RFID Radio
  6. ^ Nanosensors inspired by butterfly wings (Wired UK). Retrieved on 2011-04-23.
  7. ^ Clark, O. G., Kok, R., & Lacroix, R. (1999). "Mind and autonomy in engineered biosystems" (PDF). Engineering Applications of Artificial Intelligence 12 (3): 389–399.  
  8. ^ Howard T. Odum (15 May 1994). Ecological and general systems: an introduction to systems ecology. University Press of Colorado.  
  9. ^ Mussel glue inspires bioadhesive gel for blood vessels | RobAid. Retrieved on 2012-12-13.
  10. ^ John J. Videler (October 2006). Avian Flight. Oxford University Press.  
  11. ^ Videler, J. J.; Stamhuis, EJ; Povel, GD (2004). "Leading-Edge Vortex Lifts Swifts". Science 306 (5703): 1960–1962.  
  12. ^ Bret Tobalske's Hummingbird-research
  13. ^ How Do Flies Turn?. Retrieved on 2011-04-23.
  14. ^ Design inspired by nature, ESA
  15. ^ Bionic hand that uses wireless technology unveiled, Mail Online, 6 May 2010
  16. ^ Biomimetics and NCRM, Nichi-In classification of Biomimetics Biomimicry tissue engineering, stem cells, cell therapy. Retrieved on 2011-04-23.
  17. ^ Walsh, Fergus (21 July 2015). "Bionic eye implant world first".  
  18. ^ Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Bath. (21 February 2009). Retrieved on 2011-04-23.


  • Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature. 1997. Janine Benyus.
  • Biomimicry for Optimization, Control, and Automation, Springer-Verlag, London, UK, 2005, Kevin M. Passino
  • Ideas Stolen Right From Nature (Wired Magazine)
  • Bionics and Engineering: The Relevance of Biology to Engineering, presented at Society of Women Engineers Convention, Seattle, WA, 1983, Jill E. Steele
  • Bionics: Nature as a Model. 1993. PRO FUTURA Verlag GmbH, München, Umweltstiftung WWF Deutschland

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