Biomimicry is becoming a more common theme in various science disciplines as a design philosophy. Scientist and author Janine Benyus coined the term in 1997 book Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature. The book goes in depth on the idea that most problems we see today has already been solved by nature. This idea brings to light the philosophy of "design by nature". There are many examples of biomimicry in the world like the aerodynamic similarities of the B2 bomber compared to the falcon.
This philosophy makes me curious. How many engineering problems in the past could’ve been solved with a biomimicry philosophy in consideration, instead of human intuition? Would it have been more efficient?
Boston Dynamics have been a leader in robotic innovation for years with various robotic designs taking on animal kinematic characteristics. Last year they release Atlas, there first true robot with anthropomorphic characteristics in body movement. This, however, leads to more overall complexities in design: with more linear actuators, sensors, wiring, and software.
Just last week, however, Boston Dynamics released a video showing a new and improved robot named Handle. Jam packed with new sensors, software, and dynamic stability, the robot stands on two legs with arms that translate for balance, mimicking its human creators. While the legs of the robot are still joints, the feet are now wheels. Handle movement is much faster that Atlas, it can also traverse down steps, and avoid obstacles. Using wheels as a vehicle for motion is a step away from biomimicry and begs us to ask the question again. Are we able to design better than nature?
In engineering, a common design thought is “KISS”,Keep It Simple Stupid, and this case, Handle, is a much more efficient robot than Atlas. It can travel 15 miles on both electric and hydraulic actuators. It can jump 6.5 feet in the air, the highest jump recorded by a human was 5.3 feet. But one can note when watching the video below that Handle was not shown traversing up the stairs, something Atlas, and us humans, can do.
Robotics is only one way to compare human design efficiency to natures design. There are many other examples and scenarios one could analyze to find an answer. Ask your students in class what the future role of robots will be? Will they replace us? If evolution tells us that we adapt to become more efficient for our survival, will humans eventually incorporate robotics as apart of human evolution? Does nature design better than humans? Give some examples.