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Biomimicry or Biomimetics to solve humanity’s Biggest Challenges through nature’s Proven Solutions

The field of biomimicry, also known as biomimetics, seeks to emulate nature with technology. Biomimicry or biomimetics examines nature, its models, systems, processes, and elements to emulate or take inspiration from to solve human problems. Humans have always looked to nature for inspiration to solve problems.

 

From a drone designed to mimic the flapping wings of a dragonfly, to a greenhouse inspired by
a desert beetle’s shell, to wind turbines designed to look like sycamore seeds, nature-inspired
solutions are increasingly proliferating. Perhaps not surprisingly, many are specifically aimed at
making the world more sustainable.

 

Arborea, based at Imperial College’s White City Campus in London, is addressing the
problem of providing food for a growing world population by producing organic, healthy
ingredients with the smallest environmental impact. It has developed what it calls BioSolar
Leaf technology, a solar panel-like platform made up of nutrient-rich microalgae that mimics
the functioning of a real leaf, absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen. The panels
can be installed pretty much anywhere and at any scale, and use a thousand times less
water than soil-based plants. An acre of Arborea’s BioSolar Leaf is about 120 times better at
sequestering carbon dioxide and producing oxygen than an average forest of the same size.

 

During millions of years of evolution, nature has developed processes, objects, materials, and functions to increase efficiency. Sometimes, looking at nature provides us with the best answers for the development and optimization of different types of systems, including aerospace systems. Nature always has effective solutions for many complex tasks in aerospace industries, such as drag reduction techniques, locomotion, navigation, control, sensing, and aircraft design.

 

Nature has found some elegant solutions to complicated problems and engineers have long been inspired by its designs. Long before aircraft took flight, birds, bats and insects conquered the skies. One of the early examples of biomimicry was the study of birds to enable human flight. The Wright Brothers, who finally did succeed in creating and flying the first airplane in 1903, also derived inspiration for their airplane from observations of pigeons in flight.

 

Drawing inspiration from what evolution has achieved to allow animals to fly allows us to create the drones that are closest to the flight of a bird or a dragonfly.  Such research is driving novel strategies to improve the safety, efficiency, dexterity and versatility of drones. It may also lead robotics to uncover biological secrets otherwise beyond the reach of scientists.

 

The applications of the drones, inspired variously by flight aspects of flies, bees, moths, pigeons, eagles, bats and even, slightly disturbingly, flying snakes, seem limitless, from those designed to fly in swarms for search and rescue missions to yet others with inner-city courier applications in mind. Yet others are designed to perch as a bird or bug and provide mobile surveillance or to carry sensors for environmental monitoring, such as pollution monitoring.

 

Biomimetics refers to Creating materials that possess some of the characteristics such as: Respond dynamically to forces applied to them (design-for-function), are able to build themselves in a hierarchical and optimised way (self-assembly), are able to perform more functions when required (multi-functionality): e.g., mechanical and sensorial and ideally, respond in an active way by sealing cracks before they become catastrophic (self-healing).

 

Creating synthetic fabrics for materials such as rayon, polyester and lycra requires large amounts of energy and water, as well as producing carbon dioxide and a lot of waste. Oxford University spinout Spintex is emulating the spider, which can produce an extremely strong thread at room temperature with only protein and water. Using a unique biomimetic spinning mechanism, Spintex can create a fibre from a liquid gel just by pulling, with water the only byproduct. The process is a thousand times more energy efficient than the production of synthetic plastic fibres and no hazardous chemicals are used. As Spintex puts it, it’s a product backed by 300 million years of R&D.

 

Military Applications

This area of research is of critical importance to the defence industry and is driving various
threads, among others, in the materials research space. For example, QinetiQ has a whole
series of spinoff materials that are inspired by butterfly wings – these hold potential for
applications in things like armour or camouflage.

 

Taking the Stenocara beetle as an example: scientists have learned from the way that it
collects water from sea breezes, and how it can resist the incredible heat of the desert.
Studying desert insects has inspired research into new kinds of moisture collection and
technologies with unique thermal properties (which could be used in heat-signature
management, or packaging that keeps things cooler for longer). Likewise, understanding
different terrains can help to train, prepare and protect military personnel when they are on
active deployment.

 

Dr Anthony Brennan, a materials science and engineering professor at the University of Florida, was asked by the US Office of Naval Research to look at ways to reduce the drag on ships caused by barnacles and algae, he came up with an answer inspired by the skin of sharks, which features a slippery, diamond-shaped micropattern of millions of tiny ribs. “They’re amazing navigators and builders. They exhibit autonomous behaviour, and they do it with a brain the size of a pin head, while expending very little energy.”

Some years later Brennan serendipitously discovered that an artificially created surface using
the micropattern could also resist human pathogens. Today, Sharklet Technologies produces
a germ-resistant, adhesive-backed film that can be attached to multi-touch surfaces such as
elevator buttons and door knobs, and has found a ready new market in the era of Covid-19

 

Research by the UK’s Biomimicry Innovation Lab, “The State of Nature-inspired Innovation
in the UK”, found a 170 per cent increase in patents over the last ten years, with China
and the US leading the way. In the UK, the predominant area for biomimicry research is
engineering, followed by medicine and computer science. However, it’s possible to find
applications for nature-inspired innovation in just about every industry sector.

 

 

Biomimetics Market

The global biomimetic materials market size was valued at $37.9 billion in 2020, and is projected to reach $65.9 billion by 2030, growing at a CAGR of 5.7% from 2021 to 2030.

 

Biomimetics refers to – biologically inspired technologies i.e. human made substances, processes, devices and the systems that imitate nature. Biomimetic can be defined as “A strategic tool designed for creating an advanced and practical technology or materials of which clues can be obtained from actual biological structures and functions” a few of the successful examples of biomimetics are use of fins for swimming, robotic toys, development of prosthetics that mimic real limbs, dental implants, microchips enhancing sensory system that are interfaced with the brain to assist in movement, hearing, and visualizing.

 

Biomimetic is of special interest to researchers in robotics, nanotechnology, medical industry, artificial intelligence (AI), and the military. More recently, biomimetics is suggested in many areas such as navigational systems, signal amplifiers and data converters.

 

Biomimetic materials are materials that have extrinsic and intrinsic capabilities that allow them to transform depending on peripheral environmental circumstances. These are active and intelligent species by nature and possess a chemical composition that allows them to transform and adapt to situations. Industries such as nanotechnology, robotics, medical device, defense, automotive and others, have found various applications of these materials, showing growing and promising prospects for the development of biomimetic materials.

These materials are commonly referred to as bionics, biomimicry, bioinspiration and biogenesis. Biomimetic materials can operate even under varying pressure and temperature conditions, making them the preferred choice for many industries.

 

Biomimetics, also known by other names, including bionics, biognosis, bio-inspiration, and biomimicry, consequently, current research focuses on the design of polymer actuators that mimic the functionality of muscle, based on alternative working principles. In recent years, material scientists have developed polymer materials that can be used to develop artificial muscles.

 

To assist robotic and prosthetic design, such artificial muscles should be multi-functional, robust, modular, and have the capacity to repair themselves in response to damage. Examples of biologically synthesized complex substances are Diatoms, Abalone (origin of mother-of-pearl), Rat enamel, Sponge spicules and Birds’ bones structure.

 

Notable innovations that are inspired from nature and are really successful includes Velcro, Gecko tape, Lotus effect ,self-cleaning surfaces, Drag reduction by shark skin, Platelet Technology for pipe repair, Smart-fabric, ElekTek.

 

Biomimetics market is witnessing an admirable growth. Nanoengineered surfaces assure to improve numerous industrial processes and a variety of consumer products. For instance, commercially existent self-cleaning glass products—which depend on superhydrophilic/photocatalytic coatings are already generating significant revenues.

 

The growth of the global biomimetic materials market is driven by rise in demand for biomimetic materials from research in nanotechnology, robotics, the medical industry, artificial intelligence (AI), and the military. However, high cost associated with the production of biomimetic material is the key factor hampering the growth of the biomimetic materials market. On the contrary,
technological advancements and R&D towards highly efficient biomimetic materials are anticipated to provide lucrative growth opportunities for the key players to maintain the position in the biomimetic materials market in the upcoming years.

 

The global biomimetic materials market is segmented into material, application, and region. Depending on material, it is classified into biomimetic polymers, biomimetic ceramics & glass, biomimetic metals & alloys, and others. On the basis of application, it is categorized
into medical, automotive, defense, electronics, and others. Region-wise, it is analyzed across North America, Europe, Asia-Pacific, and LAMEA.

 

Insertion of protein into polymer membrane is being implemented for water treatment, desalination, kidney dialysis, food and beverage processing, dosing and delivery of pharmaceutical. Within the next five years other anticipated commercial market developments range from biomedical, automotive, aviation, building and architectural materials, electronics, energy, optics and textiles.

 

In terms of geography, North America followed by Europe account for the largest market share of biomimetics market. Moreover, stringent environmental policies focus on protecting the environment, has fueled the development of biomimetics in countries such as the U.S., U.K., Germany, France, Italy and Canada. However, other regions such as Middle East, Latin America and South East Asia are expected to be the prospective markets in the near future

 

Industry

Some of the key players involved are 3B’s Research Group, Applied Biomimetic A/S, Avinent, BIOKON International, Swedish Biomimetics 3000® AB, Bionic engineering network (BEN), BioTomo Pty., Ltd. (Biomimetics).

 

Some of the major players in the global biomimetic materials market include APC International, CeramTec, CTS Corporation, Kyocera Corporation, Lord Corporation, Noliac AS, Piezo Kinetics, TDK Corporation, Wright Medical Group, and Applied Biomimetic. Other players operating in the value chain of the global biomimetic materials market are Avinent, Biokon International. BioTomo Pty Ltd., 3B’s Research Group, and others.

 

Industry Developments

The ambition of Opteran, a Sheffield University spinout, is that its technology will, quite
literally, be the brains behind this new era of “ubiquitous autonomy”. But rather than
employing machine intelligence based on deep learning that imitates the mammalian
brain, as is usual in autonomous machines, Opteran’s solution uses what it calls “natural
intelligence”, reverse-engineered from the brains of the aforementioned honeybees and
transferred to a silicon chip.

As CEO David Rajan points out, the human brain contains 86 billion neurons, whereas
a honeybee’s has just a million. “But they’re extremely smart,” he says. “They’re amazing
navigators and builders. They exhibit autonomous behaviour, and they do it with a brain the
size of a pinhead, while expending very little energy.”

Adopting this pared down approach to intelligence and energy-saving, the company has
installed its development kit on a robot dog, giving it 360-degree stabilised vision based on
the compound eyes of insects, while its honeybee brain uses optic flow motion detection to
navigate around naturally without colliding with objects – and all this without the need for
GPS or the huge datasets associated with deep reinforcement learning. In the near future,
Opteran intends to add honeybee-style decision-making to its autonomous machines

 

 

References and Resources also include:

https://www.persistencemarketresearch.com/market-research/biomimetics-market.asp

https://www.wired.co.uk/bc/article/transforming-defence-six-science-and-tech-trends-qinetiq

 

 

 

 

 

About Rajesh Uppal

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