Tablet Version of the BioInspired! Newsletter

2013/01/21 significant changes to the instructions for subscribing (see comments for more details)

Google Currents is an Android (tablets, smartphones) and iOS (iPad, iPhone, but see comments) application that allows aggregation and publication of content on a wide range of portable devices.  I have converted the last four issues of the BioInspired! newsletter and would appreciate your feedback.  Key benefits:

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Analogical Reasoning and the Essence of Biomimicry/Biomimetics/BID

Recent definitions of biomimicry/biomimetics/bio-inspired design (BID) tend to combine some form of 'learning from nature' with the goal of 'solving human problems'.  Although the key action, knowledge acquisition, is clearly necessary, I do not believe it is sufficient to reliably achieve the desired goal.  Focusing on the act of knowledge transfer between the natural and human domains seems to be closer to the essence of what we are trying to achieve: encouraging innovations based on natural examples and principles through inter-disciplinary collaboration and the cross-fertilization of ideas.

Al Roth: An economist who saves lives

The BBC ran a story on the work of Al Roth and Lloyd Shapley on an algorithm to solve the "stable marriage problem".  Given a group of men and women, is there a way of pairing them up such everyone has a "stable match", such that no pairings exist where both parties prefer each other rather than their current relationship.  UC Berkley has created an interactive website where you can walk through the steps and explore the process in depth.

Turning an Idea into a 'Whole Product'

In the first issue of Zygote Quarterly, Dr. Steven Vogel described the many barriers standing between a great idea and commercial success.  Sometimes, inventions that work on the lab bench do not scale as expected: adequate yields and quality may be difficult to achieve or higher volumes do not sufficiently reduce costs.  In other cases, the invention may only be part of the final solution, requiring other components or attributes before the full benefits can be achieved.

'Closing the Loop' in Bio-Inspired Design

Amoeboid Robot Navigates Without a Brain shows the value of 'closing the loop':

  • investigating a natural phenomenon in depth, rather than relying on surface impressions
  • abstracting the underlying principles, rather than superficial similarities
  • making the principles tangible so that they can be tested
  • and lastly comparing the outcome with the original inspiration to further deepen our understanding

"Nature is Over" and "Handprints, not Footprints"

The March 12/2012 issue of TIME ran a series on the "10 Ideas that are Changing Our Life".  "Nature is Over" by Bryan Walsh argues that there are very few pristine areas of nature left, supporting the idea that we are in the "Anthropocene: the age of man" where "It's no longer us against 'Nature.'  Instead, it's we who decide what nature is and what it will be." (attributed to Paul Crutzen). 

Design, Requirements, Constraints and the Life's Principles

Constraints are a fact of life for designers.  The most obvious are the functional requirements: the functions that the system needs to perform.  These are usually well-defined since they relate to the external interfaces of the system.  In addition, non-functional requirements may also be soecified: these are constraints on how the system behaves.  The Life's Principles can be related to many of the examples given in Wikipedia:

  1. Execution qualities, such as security and usability, which are observable at run time.
  2. Evolution qualities, such as testability, maintainability, extensibility and scalability, which are embodied in the static structure of the software system.

Logitech Harmony Remote and the Life's Principles

The Life's Principles Game team has been looking at how the Life's Principles can improve design.  Our goal is to use the LPs to develop better design solutions that are hard to achieve through existing means.  Metaphorically, the designer is at a crossroads in the process where a 'business as usual' approach leads down one path but applying the appropriate LPs would lead us to choose another that is not only novel but delivers value. 

The Process of Bio-Inspired Design

The clipping Power from the people is intriguing at a number of levels.  The original idea of creating a biofuel cell was proposed in the 1970s but languished because the technology available at the time could not generate useable amounts of electricity.  That required a combination of carbon nanotubes and research into metabolic enzymes such as glucose oxidase.  The team working on this project went further, developing a proof-of-concept prototype

Google+ Hangout

Virtual communication through e-mail, forums and conference calls is unfortunately a necessity.  Even if travel were affordable (or sensible given concerns about CO2 emissions), face-to-face meetings can be hard to arrange given our busy schedules.  However, getting teams to 'gel' in a virtual world can be challenging and time consuming.  Being able to see team members while they are talking can make a big difference.

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