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Mother Nature's Design Workshop 72

abb_road writes "Scientists creating new surveillance and defense technologies are studying the insect world for inspiration. Biomimetic researchers working on devices ranging from 360 degree lenses to mine-disabling robots are using biological principals as the backbone of their work. From the article: 'The tried-and-true designs of many insects are the product of millions of years of evolution. Even so, they are not perfect models. Natural selection isn't just a matter of physiological perfection, but how an organism's traits suit it for a particular environment, scientists say. For this reason, Bandyopadhyay stresses it is important not to just copy nature's work, but to take the best parts of it and apply it elsewhere.'"
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Mother Nature's Design Workshop

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  • Flight (Score:5, Interesting)

    by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <eldavojohn&gmail,com> on Tuesday June 27, 2006 @09:35AM (#15612574) Journal
    This article has some very interesting examples of successful biomimicry. But, it leaves out the many failed attempts of biomimicry.

    Even so, they are not perfect models. Natural selection isn't just a matter of physiological perfection, but how an organism's traits suit it for a particular environment, scientists say. For this reason, Bandyopadhyay stresses it is important not to just copy nature's work, but to take the best parts of it and apply it elsewhere.'
    This is something very important. But even where the "best parts of it" apply, it still may not be the best option for man.

    Such as the struggle of flight. You'll notice that many attempts at flying involved mimicking birds. We didn't get it right until we noticed that our materials functioned better under a stable non-morphing wing structure. Planes do not fly at all the same way a bird or insect does and it took us a while to realize this.

    I think it is naïve to assume a lot of things can be mimicked from nature but it is interesting to see the successes. Just remember that a lot of times there are more simple mechanical alternatives such as non-morphing planes, the wheel & digital signals that work well or better in areas that mother nature already has inventions.

    For this post, please select your ending paragraph depending on your views of creavolution:

    *Warning! Evolution assumed below!*

    Remember that evolution is simply random mutations. The most successful being the smallest and useful changes. Just because some is successful for an organism in no way means we can adapt that into our technology. I find it interesting to look to random mutations for inspiration but a possible pit fall if you're relying on that for innovation such as the early attempts at flight.

    *Warning! Creationism assumed below!*

    Remember that God created animals in a non-technologically perfect form since their purpose is to serve humans. If He had created them perfectly, they would be better than humans. Therefore, we should not rely solely on them for inspiration in our technology as they are not optimized by Him. They were deliberately made to be inferior to humans so that we could harness them and use them for our needs. We should also avoid from mimicking God's work as we may anger Him and incur the fury of the Lord Almighty (that's not good).
    • Re:Flight (Score:5, Insightful)

      by tibike77 ( 611880 ) <tibikegamez AT yahoo DOT com> on Tuesday June 27, 2006 @09:51AM (#15612662) Journal
      Regardless, in the end, "modern" human flight was achieved by mimicked birds afterall, at least partially.
      The idea of a wing (doesn't really matter if fixed or morphable) still is the basic principle behind flying... we just didn't get the same propulsion style (propeller/jet).
      Even funnier, matching engineering closer with nature and "taking the best parts" out of each WAS a complete success almost every time... just think how planes evolved from the shabby kite-like wings of early functional models towards the bird-wing like or even variable geometry airplane wings used in some of today's aircrafts.

      So you see, what I can't agree with you is this part: "But even where the ''best parts of it'' apply, it still may not be the best option for man."
      I'm just saying you either haven't selected "the best parts" yet, or simply our current technology can't match the required complexity/reliability.

      In the end, it's all about what can be made to work or not.
      As for "the idea" behind some potentially great invention in the future, chances are mimicking nature is still the best bet.
      • I'm just saying you either haven't selected "the best parts" yet, or simply our current technology can't match the required complexity/reliability.

        The GP basically said that 2nd part, though he talked about a narrower field.

        Specifically, the GP talked about materials science, which would be included in your comment about technology.

        We can mimic a ton of things from nature, in all their complexity, with complete reliability... but it isn't cost effective.

        Cost effectiveness is the reason that "even where the

    • Re:Flight (Score:2, Insightful)

      by bcat24 ( 914105 )

      Remember that God created animals in a non-technologically perfect form since their purpose is to serve humans. If He had created them perfectly, they would be better than humans. Therefore, we should not rely solely on them for inspiration in our technology as they are not optimized by Him. They were deliberately made to be inferior to humans so that we could harness them and use them for our needs. We should also avoid from mimicking God's work as we may anger Him and incur the fury of the Lord Almighty (

      • Re:Flight (Score:1, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward
        "The greatest honor we can give God is to look at his creation and be inspired to imitate it, since it reflects God's likeness."

        Thanx for the insperation. I'll remember that next time I kill that parasite mosquito that's sucking the blood out of my arm.
      • How is that flamebait? I was replying to the parent's statement with my opinion. I didn't mean to ruffle anybody's feathers.
      • The greatest honor we can give God is to look at his creation and be inspired to imitate it, since it reflects God's likeness.
        Are you saying we should create new versions of malaria, polio, and the plague bacillus? Is this really the best of ideas? I mean, daisies are pretty, but I could sort of do without ebola. Or does that border on ingratitude?
        • Are you saying we should create new versions of malaria, polio, and the plague bacillus? Is this really the best of ideas?

          Biological Warfare anyone?
          A lot of time, money & effort has been spent weaponizing a variety of viruses & bacteria.

          Nixon 'terminated' the U.S.'s offensive biowarfare program in 1969. But, all that really meant is that 'offensive' weapon developement got placed under the flag of 'defensive' research.

          I would be surprised if someone wasn't busy trying to weaponize the bird flu virus

    • Remember that evolution is simply random mutations. The most successful being the smallest and useful changes. Just because some is successful for an organism in no way means we can adapt that into our technology. I find it interesting to look to random mutations for inspiration but a possible pit fall if you're relying on that for innovation such as the early attempts at flight.

      This imperfection proves that evolution is false. There is no "nearly right" when dealing with absolutes!!1!one1!

    • Re:Flight (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Remember that God created animals in a non-technologically perfect form since their purpose is to serve humans. If He had created them perfectly, they would be better than humans.

      Try to outrun a cheetah. Try to kill a bear with your bare hands. Try to stay underwater as long as a dolphin. Or even better, see how well a 3-day old toddler does on the savannah, compared with the animals of an equal age that are usually the prey there. Before one starts about urban environments; none of 'm when Lucy was around.
  • by neonprimetime ( 528653 ) on Tuesday June 27, 2006 @09:37AM (#15612593) Homepage
    How do scientists find the inspiration for the latest in surveillance and defense technologies?

    I honestly thought it woulda been the latest video games ... not insects.
  • Whooo.. MIT may have a talking robotic head but we have a walking lobster. http://www.neurotechnology.neu.edu/ [neu.edu]
  • ... this article was less informative than most "paragraph" articles in Popular Science. Seriously - no examples, pics, discussion of science.... how is this news?
  • ... and it's a solid principle of intelligent design, of course.
    • I was thinking you'd be trolling on that one... Well, unfortunately, maybe not...
    • The only ID principle I've ever seen is "evolution can't explain anything." I've seen no postulates or hypotheses at all from ID, other than the ones specifically tailored to rebut a tenet of evolutionary theory. There are a lot of buzzwords and technical articles, but all of them that I've seen are just trying to undermine evolutionary theory, rather than making any claims of their own. I see a lot of "we know it was designed, so there must be a designer," but I don't consider that much of an argument
      • I'm not an ID expert or proponent, exactly, but I find the concept fascinating because it contains a core principle broadly applicable to origins, SETI, and cryptography (esp. steganography):


        There is, in principle, a computable difference between designed and non-designed phenomena.

        If that principle turns out to be true, it will change the way we pursue those fields.

        • There is, in principle, a computable difference between designed and non-designed phenomena.

          I think it would be harder to tell than we'd initially think. We have a gut feeling of what appears to be designed, but it's calibrated to a lifetime of 60-70 years, not geologic, much less cosmic, time. You could stumble on a 6-million digit number that was just 0123456789, repeated over and over 600,000 times, and you'd never ever believe in your gut that it was random. But for all your certitude, you could

          • I think it would be harder to tell than we'd initially think. We have a gut feeling of what appears to be designed, but it's calibrated to a lifetime of 60-70 years, not geologic, much less cosmic, time. You could stumble on a 6-million digit number that was just 0123456789, repeated over and over 600,000 times, and you'd never ever believe in your gut that it was random.

            Agreed. Still, intuitions are both misleading *and* the source of powerful ideas in science. Newton's development of the calculus [wikipedia.org] and

  • by SEWilco ( 27983 ) on Tuesday June 27, 2006 @09:43AM (#15612624) Journal
    using biological principals
    Are there enough schools who don't need principals to provide enough principals for these experiments?
  • Yes, but... (Score:5, Funny)

    by ettlz ( 639203 ) on Tuesday June 27, 2006 @09:46AM (#15612637) Journal
    ...is it an intelligent design workshop?
  • You have to leave now, and never come back here. Have you ever heard of insect politics? Neither have I. Insects... don't have politics. They're very... brutal. No compassion, no compromise. We can't trust the insect. I'd like to become the first... insect politician. Y'see, I'd like to, but... I'm afraid, uh...
  • by tygerstripes ( 832644 ) on Tuesday June 27, 2006 @09:49AM (#15612652)
    This is widely known - in fact it's the whole basis of Natural Selection. However, there's a more fundamental thing to consider.
    There are numerous examples of technological advances (usually mechanical or chemical, since that's the focus of TFA and of nature-mimicry) which could never have been acheived through natural selection. Quite apart from their being impractical in biological circumstances the incremental, intermediary stages in the evolution of such developments would be so impractical as to render the finished "product" impossible through natural selection.
    You know where this is going. The wheel.

    It's thought through a lot by school-kids - why (except for micro-biological exceptions) do biological equivalents not exist in nature? The average /.er can come up with some decent reasons, no doubt.
    This is not to detract from the study of nature and the possible applications of mimicking it, but I'm often surprised at how this kind of study is viewed as an "impressive insight" or whatever. Nature has been the starting point for most inventive inspirations since time began, and returning to those principles does not warrant praise.
    Necessity is the mother of invention, but Nature is its wetnurse.

    • You know where this is going. The wheel.

      In Australia, there is a Hoop Snake that takes its tail in its mouth and then goes bowling merrily along. See Hoop Snakes [wikipedia.org]

      • Re:Hoop Snakes (Score:3, Informative)

        by stjobe ( 78285 )
        In Australia, there is a Hoop Snake that takes its tail in its mouth and then goes bowling merrily along.


        Maybe a mythological creature isn't the best example...

        From the page you link to:

        The hoop snake is a legendary creature of the United States and Australia [...] the hoop snake has never been accepted by the scientific community

    • Well... Aside from the fact that any creature that uses a wheel as locomotion would be eaten once it gets stuck in a hole there are parralells in nature. The dung beetle is one such example. Sure it's a ball and not a wheel but all a wheel is a cross section of a ball.
    • Necessity is the mother of invention, but Nature is its wetnurse.

      ...and don't forget, Nature is a mother.
  • by Malnathor ( 588724 ) on Tuesday June 27, 2006 @09:51AM (#15612661)
    His name has evolved into something unpronounceable.
  • awarded to Promode Bandyopadhyay of the Naval Undersea Warfare Center
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Frickin' mother nature takes five billion years to get a working prototype out the door.
  • Once these tiny robots are able to replicate (a very very difficult task, most likely impossible without some sort of matter rearranging capabilities and this will also be very difficult without abundand energy sources,) they will most definitely take over the world. I don't think humans will remain relevant once that happens.
  • by stokes ( 148512 ) on Tuesday June 27, 2006 @10:08AM (#15612785)
    Perhaps I'm just being nit-picky about hyperbole, but evolution/Natural Selection doesn't produce optimal results; it produces things that just barely satisfy the requirements for survival/reproduction. Evolution doesn't make plans in advance.
    • I'd argue that it does, but the time of optimization is very long and the parameters are constantly changing. As a result, you will rarely see an optimal result in nature because the parameters change faster than the optimization process can adapt. Also, you must realize that the optimization in not occuring on one or two axis, but on hundreds (or thousands). The object of an organism is to survive [long enough to reproduce], not to create the perfect optical lens, or sonic detection system, or deadliest v
      • by Anonymous Coward
        "I'd argue that it does"

        Then you argue wrong. That is the reason that invasive species that evolved in a much more competitive environment wipe out the indigenous life when introduced into a sheltered or isolated ecosystem. Nature rarely, if ever, requires optimal solutions. The mechanism of evolution does not especially encourage changes in a species beyond the absolute bare minimum of what is required for the species to successfully propagate. In other words, it is not so much about 'survival of the f
        • The mechanism of evolution does not especially encourage changes in a species beyond the absolute bare minimum of what is required
          And this is why all intelligent people believe in evolution. We don't really care about the fossil record or nested hierarchies--we're just all about doing the bare minimum. Now if only those religious kooks would stop trying to ruin it for everyone...

          I kid, I kid. Mostly.

        • Sorry, I was substiting optimum for perfect. Perfect solutions don't exist, in nature or anywhere else. Optimum solutions can, but are only judged on the parameters given. You've suggested a condition where the parameters were not provided to the optimization process (invasive species).
    • In fact, with a changing enviroment many traits are neutral or even a negative. Most people are familiar with the idea of adatation but a never the ideas presented by Stephen Gould with regrad to spandrels and exaptions. quoted from http://www.goodbyemag.com/apr02/gould.html [goodbyemag.com] :

      "Another important word was "spandrel," a concept borrowed from architecture. Where paleontologists had traditionally treated every trait in an organism as though it had evolved for some purpose, Gould held that many structures exis

  • Ants (Score:5, Interesting)

    by KarMax ( 720996 ) <KarMax&gmail,com> on Tuesday June 27, 2006 @10:14AM (#15612842) Homepage
    I always wondered about ants, a friend compares the Ants with some kind of socialism, because leaving a side the idea of "pawns" or "slaves" everybody work for a cause grater than him/herself. It will be interesting if there are more popular the courses where the Mother Nature (specific insects behaviors) are applied to real world society.

    BTW that's just an idea i want to share.

    When i was on the Amazonian Jungle (from Peru to Brazil) i saw a LOT of insects (that kind of "bugs" that you only see on movies or books.
    It was interesting the behavior of some insects...

    The spiders are really BIG, and when we travel on boat at day you can't see any, as soon as the sun starts to hide, the spiders starts to work. Some people kill the spiders (in fact the first time i kill some too) then i realize Watching/analyzing the behavior of the spiders:

    They try to stay away from you, but they feel like at night YOU are in his place, so they act overconfident, they build a lot of spiderwebs and the mosquitoes (there is a LOT of mosquitoes in the Jungle and they are BIG) goes directly to the spider.
    So i think, well maybe if i leave the spiders alive, they will catch all the mosquitoes, eat well and no one bites me.
    At the next day, it works, none bites me. So i start to really analyze that, it seems that the spider knows that the mosquito bit us, so the spiders build webs around us (they can build and unbuild webs really fast) and use us as a carnage.
    I feel odd, really odd. I think that i am the one Designing the "model/system".

    Also we have some ants-analyzing-days and is annoying how they work you can read a lot about ants, but when you saw/fell them working is amazing.


    Its good to "feel" the Mother Nature to learn and "why not?" teach her.

  • ectinsay obotsray, say Bandyopadhyay!!!!!
  • Robinsects? (Score:2, Funny)

    by JoshDM ( 741866 )
    I, for one, welcome our new robot insect overlords!
  • So once we've spent a few hundreds of billions on all of this whiz-bang security and surveillance technology, we'll all finally be completely safe from the bogeymen. And free, too, right?
  • it is important not to just copy nature's work, but to take the best parts of it and apply it elsewhere.

    Oh-oh-oh, sweet mystery of life - at last I found you!
  • Imagine if the creatures of the Earth were to continue like they are now for one million years. I bet they would become VAST improvements of what they are now. Nature is not currently in its final draft, but instead it is constantly improving itself. Nature is a lot like software in this respect, just not as buggy in its current iteration.

    Nature is not the end-all be all of design, but there is definite value in studying it. There is incredible beauty to be found in a snowflake's delicate crystal. T
  • by csoto ( 220540 ) on Tuesday June 27, 2006 @12:29PM (#15613982)
    Saying this demonstrates a profoundly naiive understanding of the Theory of Evolution. There is no "perfect" in biology. There is just genetics. Something happens and you have genes to take advantage (or simply avoid disaster), then you survive to reproduce your genes. Over time, your genes survive. Perfect isn't anywhere in this equation.

    NOTE TO SCIENTISTS: Learn to properly represent Evolution. There are lots of idiots out there who already want to bend and twist it to fit their theist agenda!
  • From the post, "Bandyopadhyay stresses it is important not to just copy nature's work, but to take the best parts of it and apply it elsewhere."

    Of course, just because a specific plant or animal is effective at killing off an unwanted pest doesn't mean it's a good thing to use it somewhere else. An example in point would be the use of certain poisonous snakes which ended up killing off songbirds on islands that had no defenses either, or the use of certain diurnal creatures to hunt nocturnal creatures - an
  • This is further proof of my theory that almost every major technological innovation is motivated by the government's responsibility to protect the public.

    Fortunately, with time, these innovations move down the security restriction list, allowing GPS, the Internet, Google Earth, and other such goodies to reach public usage. Even if the military gets them first, I'm still glad to have these things.
    • . . . almost every major technological innovation is motivated by the government's responsibility to protect the public.
      . . . that's certainly why we have those things as well as air bags, H-bombs, seat belt and helmet laws - maybe even TANG® and Velcro® (OK, not really) but what about the printing press, the airplane, radio, refrigeration, and Cheez Wiz?
      Seriously, you're just looking at the last thirty years, and a limited part of that. The government is not to be credited with all good in the
      • Good point about refrigeration - but was that driven by a need to preserve food for the infantry? :) Your point is well-taken.
        • My understanding of the history is that refrigeration (used for air conditioning not for food storage, initially) was driven by the (misguided) need to provide cool, dry air to malaria victims in the Southern US to restore their health. It was thought that malaria (Italian for "bad air") was caused by humid, stagnant air (conditions that happen to coincide with mosquito habitats).
  • Did anyone check to make sure that Mother Nature didn't get a patent on all that IP? I mean, imagine the damages that such a suit might incur.

    OTOH, one might say that God already granted the rights [biblegateway.com] to use His work, so there could be a bit of a legal battle about who owns what...

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