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Laboratory of Media Dynamics
Graduate School of Information Science and Technology
Hokkaido University

Collaboration with Biomimetics

“Biomimetics Database” – Encouraging the Understanding of Previously Unknown Biological Abilities

Through millions of years of evolution, biological organisms have developed abilities that are best suited to their living environment. “Biomimetics” is the science of reproducing these biological abilities in various projects in the industry. In the near future, biomimetics will contribute to a wide range of fields such as medicine, sports, construction and manufacturing.

The science of biomimetics began in the 1930s, when mimicking the behavior of silk led to the discovery of nylon fiber, and accelerated significantly in the 1990s due to the invention of the scanning electron microscope (SEM). The SEM allowed researchers to examine the biological microstructures, working on a micrometer (0.001 of a millimeter) level.

Currently, the Laboratory of Media Dynamics is researching the “Biomimetics Database” – a new search engine for supporting the discovery of new abilities from biological microstructures. This database can automatically extract and analyze multiple images of similar biological microstructures. The user performing the search can then freely expand or move these images, and find similar images easily. The database thus supports the user in making new discoveries by providing hints about common strong abilities shared by different biological organisms.

The database currently contains tens of thousands of images of various insects, fish and birds kindly provided by the National Museum of Nature and Science and the Hokkaido University Museum.

This database has allowed us, for example, to discover that the Dytiscidae and the Gyrinidae, despite being different species, have very similar structures. Despite these species not being closely related – the former lives underwater, the latter lives on the water surface – the database has allowed us to realize that they share structures that are common to living in wet environments. Understanding this ability allows us to discover new abilities. Furthermore, the database isn’t restricted to working with insects. For example, it enables biological structures to be compared to the surface of construction material.

The science of biomimetics solves technological problems by applying the abstraction or transferal of knowledge obtained from biological models. Since the “Biomimetics Database” organically shares different forms of data that was accumulated from various fields, we expect it to contribute to the development of biomimetics, which combines biology with various technological fields. Our database allows introducing biological abilities into the development of new materials and product shapes to be achieved through a systematic approach, instead of on an individual ad hoc basis. We are hopeful that it will contribute to the development of new and exciting products.