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Posted By Peter Bentley
Here's an interview by email with a journalist, in 2005.

- On a very general level speaking, why biomimetics? Can nature do a better job than humans engineers, or can nature do something that human engineers can't? Or is there some other reason?

The answer to both questions is yes and no. Engineers are much better than nature for certain applications, and they can do things nature can't do (like design rockets to take us into space). But nature is packed full of trillions of intricate designs, from the molecular structure of a virus, to the eye of an eagle, to the elegant symbiosis of a rain-forest. There's a lot of designs to learn from, and also the processes that produce those designs can teach us a great deal. Nature already has nanotechnology in the form of DNA, proteins and cells. Nature has technology that adapts to new situations and environments, self-replicates, builds itself, repairs itself and designs itself. Nature also has some of the most complex designs in the universe - like the human brain or immune system. These are all features that we would love our technology to have, but we can't do any of them. Yet.

- Do you think biomimetics if often the best approach? Or is it only applicable to certain specific areas?

I think you must require some of those capabilities I list above. If you don't want adaptability, self-repair, or a massively complex design that works, then you may find that an engineer is better able to create a cheap and quick solution.

- What do you think the prevalence of biomimetics in the future will be, especially regarding biomimetic machines?

I think the two areas that are most important are: (1) applications where complexity needs to be managed better, and (2) applications where coping with the unexpected is important. An example of the first area is ubiquitous computing - in a few years we will have computers in *everything* and they'll all be talking to each other. If we don't learn how to do this, then when you walk into a new building you may find your glasses crash, your phone malfunctions and the elevators stop working for you - all the computers shouting at each other will cause chaos around you. Adding security to such systems will also be very important. An example of the second area is any safety-critical system, from air-traffic control to car engine management. Obviously we'd prefer these systems to adapt and cope with unexpected situations such as damage or unforeseen environmental conditions. A classic example of both areas combined is autonomous robotics - if you send a robot to Mars, you ideally want a complex system capable of coping in new environments. Once these kinds of systems are perfected, we might one day see consumer electronics with similar capabilities - televisions that repair themselves. But that won't be for a while (especially since people make money from repairing or replacing TVs).


 
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