SENSORS AND SENSING. Organisms sense physical stimuli (e.g, fluid motion, sound pressure, etc) with structures or processing schemes that often are quite different from that employed in human-built systems, particularly because humans are so visually oriented. However, an organism's ability to gather information efficiently is often key to their survival, and organisms must perform these tasks under conditions of limited processing power or materials. Studying animal sensation therefore can yield novel sensors, or develop sensors that efficiently gather particular information for a certain task in a specific environment. The limits on neural processing machinery and sensory structures make animal strategies particularly useful for autonomous systems. Animals must also frequently communicate without exposing themselves to predators or other dangers, and provide insights in how to design private communication channels.
BIOLOGICAL MATERIALS often differ from human materials in both their properties and their constituents. Biomaterials are assembled from the smallest scales out of common materials, and are organized hierarchically with non-uniform properties (anisotropic). In contrast, we manufacture relatively homogenous materials by manipulations at large scales, and with reliance on relatively scarce (often toxic) substances such as metals. Examining biomaterials provides insights into how to design materials that are differentially sensitive to forces along certain directions, which can reduce weight and material usage in structures. They also provide clues to materials that can channel light, sound or heat differentially along certain directions, yielding natural fiber optics, better insulating materials or acoustically absorptive materials. Understanding the principles that result in ground up manufacturing can help to develop these new materials based on common, non-toxic building blocks.
BIOMECHANICS AND LOCOMOTION. Animal locomotion results from nonlinear biological systems that must interact effectively with complex physical environments. Animals produce movement with muscular structures that differ substantially from human technology (e.g. animals have no wheels), and must move with minimal energy usage, often over large distances and in variable environments. Organisms also employ passive regulation (i.e. movements are coordinated and regulated as a result of inherent properties of materials or system connections), which further reduces the need for complex central coordination. As a result of these properties, studying animal locomotion can help to develop more energy efficient vehicles by adopting useful shapes, movement kinematics or structures, or by reducing the need for complex mechanical control systems that add weight and consume energy. Because biological structures are tough rather than strong, biological systems are excellent guides for using flexible and deformable structures instead of rigid and non-compliant ones, and provide blueprints for systems that can bend, twist or resist forces adaptively in response to changing conditions. These strategies may minimize materials and energy while preserving or improving function.
BIOLOGICAL SYSTEMS span multiple scales and have many elements connected in complex ways. Examples include networks of self-regulating circulatory vessels, social insect colonies, or ecological communities. These systems often exhibit surprising complexity and perform well under a large range of conditions, even though individual interactions may be based on simple rules (e.g. foraging in bee colonies). In addition, the organization of connections appears to allow some biological systems (e.g. ecosystems) to resist disruptions caused when individual elements (e.g. a species) are removed or added to the system. Since most biological systems function to exchange information, materials (or both), studying the properties of these systems may provide strategies for more efficient and sustainable transportation or energy distribution systems, produce principles that lead to more secure and robust information networks, or provide for adaptive behavior of groups (movement rules, task allocation) with a minimal number of simple rules and little organizational hierarchy. Such principles may contribute to better human systems ranging from transportation networks, city structures, or organizational/social networks.
COGNITIVE MODELS AND COMPUTATIONAL TOOLS. Biologically-inspired design depends on building deep and accurate analogies between human and biological systems, since design principles useful to a human problem must be derived from analyzing a similar problem faced in the biological world. As mentioned previously, we do not yet fully understand how even experts in engineering or biology go about mining evolutionary adaptation as a source for design inspiration. Cognitive studies are required to understand the cognitive and social processes underlying biologically inspired design. The results of these cognitive studies are computational models and tools that support the transfer of biological knowledge to engineering domains, and vice-versa, and educational strategies that teach engineers and biologists how to operate in this interdisciplinary framework.
Dr. David Hu
Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Georgia Tech
Walking on Water: Biolocomotion at the Interface
Abstract: We consider the hydrodynamics of creatures capable of sustaining themselves on the water surface by means other than flotation. The various propulsion mechanisms are rationalized through consideration of energetics, hydrodynamic forces applied, or momentum transferred by the driving stroke. profile | PDF
Dr. Daniel Goldman
Assistant Professor, School of Physics at Georgia Tech
The Robot Designed to Master Mars
Terrestrial arthropods negotiate demanding terrain more effectively than any search-and-rescue robot. Slow, precise stepping using distributed neural feedback is one strategy for dealing with challenging terrain. Alternatively, arthropods could simplify control on demanding surfaces by rapid running that uses kinetic energy to bridge gaps between footholds. profile | PDF
Dr. Craig Tovey
Professor, ISyE and College of Computing at Georgia Tech
Bee Strategy Helps Servers Run More Sweetly
There is a remarkable close similarity between the honey bee colony's problem of allocating foragers among flower patches to maximize nectar intake, and the Internet hosting center's problem of allocating servers among hosted the Internet hosting center's problem of allocating servers among hosted applications to maximize revenue. An imitation of the honey bee solution in the hosting center context improves revenue by 4% to 20% compared with common practice, which does not readily reallocate dynamically. profile | msnbc
Dr. Nils Kroger and Dr. Ken Sandhage
Assistant Professor in the School of Materials Science and Engineering at Georgia Tech
B. Mifflin Hood Professor in the School of Materials Science and Engineering at Georgia Tech
Microscopic sea creatures provide foundation for gas sensors, other devices
The three-dimensional shells of tiny ocean creatures could provide the foundation for novel electronic devices, including gas sensors able to detect pollution faster and more efficiently than conventional devices. Using a chemical process that converts the shells' original silica (silicon dioxide, SiO2) into the semiconductor material silicon, researchers have created a new class of gas sensors based on the unique and intricate three-dimensional (3-D) shells produced by microscopic creatures known as diatoms. publications | article