Bionics looks to nature's principles and translates them into technical applications. Easier said than done. After all, where can you find the right ideas to emulate nature and apply biological methods and systems? And once they find them, how do modern companies incorporate them in their development process to create a successful product?
There are many examples of industrial designs imitating nature successfully, including the Velcro ® hook-and-loop system, which got its inspiration from the burdock fruit, or fabrics that mimic the unique properties of honeycomb structures to ensure robustness and flexibility.
To integrate bionics in modern work processes, one needs the expertise and skill of bionic specialists. Several universities in Germany and other countries offer degrees needed for a career in bionics. To integrate the science into their design methods, companies should always review and analyze their in-house processes and make the required changes, as structures often only need slight adjustments and modifications. In our COMPAMED.de interview, Professor Heike Beismann, Biology and Bionics Program at the Westphalian University of Applied Sciences in Bocholt, explains: "We don't want biomimetics to be seen as a new, entirely different development process. The idea is to integrate its principles into what is already known. Our goal is to show the possibilities this creates for companies willing to include it in their processes. It opens a large window of opportunity that looks at nature for solutions. This method doesn’t always have to work but if it makes sense, you just expanded your repertoire and can draw on a 3.8-billion-year history and evolution to find the perfect solution." (Click here to read the full interview).
The anatomy of the human body serves as a template
Bionics look for solutions for technical problems or design templates in nature, like the design of this glass dome.
The results of such considerations are often fascinating. Bionics doesn’t just inspire comparatively simple designs like hypodermic needles by mimicking the stinger of a wasp or bee. Prosthetic technology is likewise influenced by nature and takes the human body as a template. For years, researchers have attempted to create artificial arms and legs that come very close to the functionality of the original lost limbs. (For more on this, read our MEDICA-tradefair.com interview Bionic prosthesis: easy to put on, intuitive to use). While amputees first must practice using the application, the results are often astounding. Patients can once again grab an object with the prosthetic hand or use their artificial legs to run and jump. Unfortunately, for now, reclaiming the sense of touch remains a dream for prosthesis wearers. Even though scientists have launched repeated attempts to teach artificial limbs to sense touch and feel over the years, none of the products have successfully launched on the market.
The spleen is another organ that served as the template for a bionic device. While it is not needed for survival, it still plays an important supporting role and helps protect against infection. It supports lymphocyte development and helps safely remove pathogens from the bloodstream. To do this, the organ produces opsonins, extracellular proteins that bind to a wide range of sepsis-causing pathogens. A biospleen device was designed to prevent sepsis by using artificial opsonin-coated magnetic beads to tag pathogens. A special blood-cleansing device then pulls and removes the magnetic beads from the blood.
The Golden Rule for all products is to know it takes patience and tenacity before they are ready for the market. Some will be successful and improve the quality of life for patients, while other ideas must be discarded. Either way, nature holds the key to exciting solutions. We simply must be diligent in finding them.