Tag: Bionics

hard drive close-up
Biomimicry

Bacteria Inspire Magnetic Hard Drive

Certain types of bacteria can navigate using magnetic nanoparticles as tiny compasses. Researchers at the University of Leeds have extracted the protein that controls this process and applied it to computing. Typical hard drives use use “granular computing”, while this new method relies on bit-pattern media, where each miniscule magnetic square on a surface can store one bit.

The team is close to recreating the data density of modern hard drives, and hope eventually to be able to store one terabyte of date per square inch – more advanced than any existing hard drive. According to Sarah Stanilan, who lead the research, “We’re using and abusing nature because it’s had billions of years to do all of its experiments through evolution, so there is almost no point in us starting from scratch.”

Photo via Downhilldom. Story via New Scientist.

silkworm cocoons
Augmented-Bodies

Regrowing Bones with Silk

Time to add another superpower to insect silk, which already includes bulletproof skin and implantable microelectronicsRecent research indicates that silk may be an ideal candidate for creating strong, flexible scaffolding for re-growing bones. Scientists used a chemical process to break silk strands down into nano-scale fibers that were used to reinforce a silk protein scaffold. By mimicking the natural roughness and stiffness of bone, this biodegradable structure helps to encourage vigorous bone growth. While certain biomaterials are at the center of research into bone regeneration, few of these existing materials can match silk’s toughness, especially in load-bearing grafts.

jae rim
Biomimicry

The Ecological Human

The nature of humanity in the twenty-first century is, according to sociologist Steve Fuller, a ‘bipolar disorder’ beset with dualisms of identification such as divine/animal, mind/body, nature/artifice and individual/social. He notes that they have challenged our collective sense of identity as ‘human’, particularly though the operationalization of the mind/body question in new material configurations of metallic or silicon bodies [1].

In short, we are ‘becoming’ machines. Inventor Ray Kurtzweil and performance artist Marcel Li Antunez Roca both explore this notion in their projections about the future of the human body. Yet ‘emergentist’ philosophers and scientists have challenged the mechanistic model of matter since the late 18th and early 19th century. They propose another way of understanding the organization of matter [2], without resorting to the customary mechanist  [3] – vitalist [4] dichotomy [5]. Observations from the biological and chemical sciences demonstrate that substances frequently do not behave in a manner that can be explained as the simply ‘sum’ of their components. For example, the addition of an acid and an alkali creates salt and water, while the fusion of an ovum and spermatozoon produces a conceptus. These are transformational rather than additional processes, which resist simple, mechanical interpretations.

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Leprosy 7
Anthropomorphobia

Is the Human Body Redundant?

The increasing ‘liveliness’ of machines and accessibility to the virtual world has raised questions about whether it is possible to uncouple the mind from the body in through a host of different strategies. The basic idea is that if we are able to escape the ties of our own flesh then we can upgrade them and even replace them with immortal ones. Performance artist Stelarc has made some of the most extreme and enduring work on this subject. The artist characteristically depersonalises his anatomy and claims that it is not only an object that can be subjected to re-designing but is also ‘obsolete’. During his performances, Stelarc mentally ‘vacates’ his own body to prove its obsolescence, and claims that his body is no more than a site for redesigning and re-engineering the human form.

In my view, Stelarc’s work paradoxically highlights the profound importance that embodiment holds for being human. When Stelarc dissociates his mind from his body he demonstrates its sheer plasticity and robustness. The artist then recolonizes the body with robots, communications technologies and soft prostheses as proof of this inbuilt physical redundancy. Yet the machines he hosts are given context by the presence of a body – for in its absence, they are just a collection of machines devoid of meaning. Moreover, redundancy is a characteristic of complex systems, which are a form of organization that does not obey the Cartesian, dualistic laws that govern machines. The artist’s rejection of these qualities simply highlights that the human body is not a machine.

There is nothing liberating about having an anesthetized body, nor one that is functionally redundant. While Stelarc’s suspensions and performances demonstrate that we can temporarily ‘forget’ our bodies in order to explore a transcendent state of being, there are those who live in a permanent state of disconnection.

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algae bioreactor farm
Biomimicry

Little Green Cows

The world is alight with algae fever.

In this age of deep ecological design aspirations, the range of speculative design projects based on algae technology is growing. Algae are imagined to provide a whole range of solutions, from energy-producing architectural towers, to lights, burgers, skin care productsanimal feed, drug factories and bioplastics. It finally appears that the world is turning green. Literally.

Algae, simple photosynthetic plants that live in water, are among some of the oldest living organisms on earth. Most species can only be seen with a microscope, but others can form dense mats of vegetation or large underwater forests. During the Archean period, between 3.9 and 3.5 billion years ago, blue-green algae* set the preconditions for modern life by changing the earth’s atmosphere, which was choked with poisonous gases, and turning it into an oxygen-rich environment. Their modern-day descendants can use a range of pigments to harvest specific wavelengths of light to form solid plant matter, or ‘biomass’, by using sunlight and carbon dioxide to produce fuel, water and oxygen.

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corpus_1_530
Anthropomorphobia

Corpus 2.1

Could you imagine yourself having QR-code freckles, or a chlorophyl skin? Dutch artist Marcia Nolte visualises these kind of speculative scenarios in a very non-spectacular yet beautiful way. This Corpus 2.1 series is a follow-up to her earlier Corpus 2.0 series, of which we also featured a stunning image in our book.

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Hermit crab in his new house
Biomimicry

Hermit Crabs Can Live Like Kings Again

As global houses shortages are on the rise, hermit crabs are impacted too. Hermit crabs do not make their own homes, but must scavenge for shells. The shell supply is decreasing and therefore they often end up using glass bottles or empty shotgun shells. This housing is not up to modern standards, let alone health and safety regulations. Project Shellter wants to save these beatniks and provide them with quality housing so they can live like kings again.

A collaborating between Makerbot and TeamTeamUsa is using 3D printers to produce new biodegradable shells. They are tested in the ‘crabitat’ to see whether or not the crabs adapt to their new housing. All shell designs are crowd sourced, so if you have some 3D modeling skills and a good idea, you can contribute by uploading your own design.

Via Crisp Green and Project Shellter

robot school teacher
anthropomorphism and design

Rule #6: Meet People’s Expectations

For past entries and an introduction to the 11 Golden Rules of Anthropomorphism and Design, click here. 

People expect many things from each other: Expect them to say hi in the morning; expect them to buy a ticket for the bus; expect them to watch out when driving a car; expect them to do their jobs well. People also expect certain behaviors from anthropomorphic products. When a product works differently than promised, this can cause confusion or anger. When a person gives commands to a product and the product ignores him, he becomes frustrated, because the product feels like a person who rudely turns his back. You wouldn’t accept that behavior from a person, so why would you accept it from a product?

The robot Saya has been developed to teach elementary-grade school children. She can speak different languages and make facial expressions, and hopefully confirm to what the kids expect of an instructor.

Image via The Daily Mail.

Synthetic Cricket Hair
Biomimicry

Crickets Inspire New Sensitive Sensor

Inspired by crickets, researchers of the MESA+ Institute for Nanotechnology of the University of Twente in the Netherlands have build a biomimetic sensor that can measure changes in airflow and pressure. It resembles the same sensory system of ‘filiform hairs’ that crickets use to perceive their predators.

The tiny artificial hairs, made of polymer SU8, are broader at the base and thinner near the top. The base of each hair rests on a flexible surface that, when moved, changes its electrical capacity, thus providing a means to meassure movement. By alternating the voltage, the hairs can be made more or less stiff, changing the sensitivity to movement. If the hairs are limper, they can measure smaller movements in airflow and pressure, up to ten times as much compared to a stiff hair.

Via University of Twente.