Bionics (also known as biomimetics, bio-inspiration, biognosis, biomimicry, or bionical creativity engineering) is the application of biological methods and systems found in nature to the study and design of engineering systems and modern technology. The word bionic was coined by Jack E. Steele in 1958, possibly originating from the Greek word βίον, bíon, pronounced [bi:on] ("bee-on"), meaning 'unit of life' and the suffix -ic, meaning 'like' or 'in the manner of', hence 'like life'. Some dictionaries, however, explain the word as being formed from biology + electronics.
The transfer of technology between lifeforms and synthetic constructs is, according to proponents of bionic technology, desirable because evolutionary pressure typically forces living organisms, including fauna and flora, to become highly optimized and efficient. A classical example is the development of dirt- and water-repellent paint (coating) from the observation that the surface of the lotus flower plant is practically unsticky for anything (the lotus effect).
The term "biomimetic" is prefered when reference is made to chemical reactions. In that domain, biomimetic chemistry refers to reactions that, in nature, involve biological macromolecules (for example, enzymes or nucleic acids) whose chemistry can be replicated using much smaller molecules in vitro .
Examples of bionics in engineering include the hulls of boats imitating the thick skin of dolphins; sonar, radar, and medical ultrasound imaging imitating the echolocation of bats. In the field of computer science, the study of bionics has produced artificial neurons, artificial neural networks, and swarm intelligence. Evolutionary computation was also motivated by bionics ideas but it took the idea further by simulating evolution in silico and producing well-optimized solutions that had never appeared in nature. It is estimated by Julian Vincent, professor of biomimetics at the University of Bath in the UK, that "at present there is only a 10% overlap between biology and technology in terms of the mechanisms used"
The name biomimetics was coined by Otto Schmitt in the 1950s. The term bionics was coined by Jack E. Steele in 1958 while working at the Aeronautics Division House at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton. However, terms like biomimicry or biomimetics are more preferred in the technology world in efforts to avoid confusion between the medical term bionics. Coincidentally, Martin Caidin used the word for his 1972 novel Cyborg, which inspired the series The Six Million Dollar Man. Caidin was a long-time aviation industry writer before turning to fiction full time.
Often, the study of bionics emphasizes implementing a function found in nature rather than just imitating biological structures. For example, in computer science, cybernetics tries to model the feedback and control mechanisms that are inherent in intelligent behavior, while artificial intelligence tries to model the intelligent function regardless of the particular way it can be achieved.
The conscious copying of examples and mechanisms from natural organisms and ecologies is a form of applied case-based reasoning, treating nature itself as a database of solutions that already work. Proponents argue that the selective pressure placed on all natural life forms minimizes and removes failures.
Although almost all engineering could be said to be a form of biomimicry, the modern origins of this field are usually attributed to Buckminster Fuller and its later codification as a house or field of study to Janine Benyus.
Roughly, we can distinguish three biological levels in the fauna or flora, after which technology can be modeled:
* Mimicking natural methods of manufacture
* Imitating mechanisms found in nature (velcro)
* Studying organizational principles from the social behaviour of organisms, such as the flocking behaviour of birds, optimization of ant foraging and bee foraging, and the swarm intelligence (SI)-based behaviour of a school of fish.