Are We There Yet? The BioM Innovation Database (Shoshanah Jacobs)

© INFINITY - Fotolia.comAt a small conference at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in 1960, scientists from across the United States gathered to discuss biomimetics (actually, they used terms like bionics and biophysics).  After many presentations on specific technologies, three men got up to present the following papers:

  •     Mortimer Taube: “What good is bionics?”,
  •     Otto Schmitt: “Where are we now and where are we going?”,
  •     and Jack Steele: “How do we get there?”.

Sadly, the proceedings are cited nowadays only for Steele’s definition of ‘bionics’ which I have been unable to locate despite many word searches and readings.  The proceedings are important because these authors cover the challenges associated with research in bionics and make suggestions for solutions.  What is interesting is that in them we recognize challenges that we still face today and we can find a couple of different solutions that we have not explored.  The three papers challenge us to ask: “Are we there yet?”

The BioM Innovation Database Project will help us paint a picture of global biomimetic activity since 1960.  It is the first to include data related to process, approach, geography and vocabulary.  In doing so it will illuminate some of the key questions that we have been posing with respect to the process of conducting biomimetic research and development.  It may help us push biomimetics a bit further.  The database currently contains over 350 cases of products or concepts that have been identified as biomimetic.  We have classified and analyzed these cases based upon their biological models, the type of biomimetics used, the use of language to promote or describe the case by primary and third parties, the dates and the people involved.  And we have gone further than this.  With over 75 detailed interviews already conducted, we have asked questions about how the concept was developed, the entry points into biology, the disciplines sitting around the design table, the challenges faced, the number of models explored, and much more.  We have even asked developers if they would like to continue to help us study them!  We have set a goal of contacting all 350 developers for interviews and have just recently completed the first round of analyses.

With so much data and so much potential, it would be selfish not to share this with the biomimetic community!  I am looking for assistance from the BID Community in the collection of data in order to increase the validity and relevance of the database.  One of our biggest challenges (because we lack a team member with the experience) will be publishing the data in an accessible way to both users that are interested in a specific case or those that would like to get an idea of the bigger picture.  If you would like to discuss research possibilities please do not hesitate to get in touch at the BioM Knowledge Transfer Lab, Integrative Biology, University of Guelph.

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Dr. Shoshanah Jacobs studies knowledge transfer both in biomimetics and pedagogy.  Her specific interests in biomimetics lie in the way in which designers approach problems of disciplinarity and how challenges can be overcome.  She teaches biology at the University of Guelph, (Canada).


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