A Crash Course on Biomimicry in Engineering
Meghan Brown posted on March 31, 2017 |
Andrea Ziomek of FESTO discusses biomimicry and bio-inspired engineering for automation and more.

The term ‘biomimicry’ refers to drawing inspiration from the natural world to design innovative engineering solutions. 

For example, when engineers in fields such as automation are faced with tough challenges, they can look at how nature has solved these problems in order to create smoother robotic movements or find new ways to pick up objects. But it’s not just mechanical engineers and roboticists; other engineering disciplines are increasingly using nature to develop new technologies, from underwater adhesives to spider-silk materials, self-healing polymers and imaging methods

This growing trend toward emulating nature means there are increased opportunities for students to pursue an education in this field as well.  Many universities and colleges are beginning to offer specializations and research opportunities in biomimicry and bio-inspired engineering in their mechanical, chemical, biomedical and electrical engineering programs.

ENGINEERING.com had the opportunity to get a crash course in biomimicry and engineering at the USA Science and Engineering Festival, where we sat down with Andrea Ziomek from FESTO.

“Everything that happens in nature has been perfected through millions of years of evolution. So, when it comes to adaptability and flexibility, we know animals are perfectly adapted to their environment. They have maximized productivity and energy efficiency. There’s a lot we can learn from that,” Ziomek stated.

“In the factory, it is all about movement. Sometimes a customer will come to us and say, ‘I have a problem, can you solve it?’”  She offered the example of a smartphone manufacturer that was looking for an energy-free handling solution for moving the phones along the production line.

“With a traditional prong gripper, it wasn’t possible. So, we looked to nature, and we know that a gecko can walk up a glass wall. If you look at the foot of a gecko, it has these tiny little fibers. We studied that, and it took us two years, but we were able to recreate the skin of the gecko and it’s now our nano-force gripper, with completely energy free gripping.”

Other times, Ziomek said, engineers will look at nature, see an interesting principle, and think, ‘I wonder what we can do with this?’

One of the first projects in FESTO’s Bionic Learning Network was to analyze fish fins, which led to the development of a flexible, three-prong gripper.  “Usually with an object, if you put pressure against it, it moves into the direction of the pressure. But we noticed that a fish fin curls toward it,” explained Ziomek. “So this gripper closes and hugs any object, which means in the same application we can now grip a lightbulb or a grapefruit, without having to program it. Even better, it won’t damage anything.”

Three-prong gripper inspired by fish fins. (Image courtesy of FESTO.)
Three-prong gripper inspired by fish fins. (Image courtesy of FESTO.)

But aside from these factory automation applications, the real highlight of FESTO’s visit to the USA SEF was their Air Penguin, Air Jelly and E-motion Butterflies – autonomous flying machines inspired by—you guessed it—penguins, jellyfish and butterflies.

(Images courtesy of FESTO.)
(Images courtesy of FESTO.)

Check out the video above to see these bio-inspired creations in action, or visit FESTO’s website.

To learn more about the USA Science and Engineering Festival, visit their site.

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