Making it easier to imitate nature

Also from The Economist:

“Velcro is probably the most famous and certainly the most successful example of biological mimicry, or ‘biomimetics’. In fields from robotics to materials science, technologists are increasingly borrowing ideas from nature, and with good reason: nature’s designs have, by definition, stood the test of time, so it would be foolish to ignore them. Yet transplanting natural designs into man-made technologies is still a hit-or-miss affair.

Engineers depend on biologists to discover interesting mechanisms for them to exploit, says Julian Vincent, the director of the Centre for Biomimetic and Natural Technologies at the University of Bath in England. So he and his colleagues have been working on a scheme to enable engineers to bypass the biologists and tap into nature’s ingenuity directly, via a database of ‘biological patents’. The idea is that this database will let anyone search through a wide range of biological mechanisms and properties to find natural solutions to technological problems. . .

Surely human intellect, and the deliberate application of design knowledge, can devise better mechanisms than the mindless, random process of evolution? Far from it. Over billions of years of trial and error, nature has devised effective solutions to all sorts of complicated real-world problems.”