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

Emulating At the Form, Process and System Level

Based on the large number of case studies, emulating nature's forms appears to be relatively easy.  Our knowledge of nature's processes is growing (see page 33 of Julian Vincent's Workshop Talk at the March 2011 Bio-Inspired Workshop in Palo Alto) but it is still often easier, cheaper and faster to follow the 'heat, beat and treat' path. 

Connecting the two data points and extrapolating suggests that emulating systems will be even more difficult, which appears to be supported by the limited number of verified case studies.  A few that come to mind are John Todd's Living Machines, the Wakefield 'cardboard to caviar' industrial ecology project and REGEN Energy's power controllers.  As in emulating process, we often lack a good understanding of how natural systems work at a detailed level.  On the other hand, systems solutions can be built from 'off the shelf' components.  Although the components are important, the innovation in a systems solution is often determined by how the components interact amongst themselves and with the environment.  

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