- Engineering to Biology Thesaurus
- Functional Modeling
- Bio-Design Cube
- Systems View
Our group decided that the two most user-friendly and intuitive tools included the EBT (engineering to Biology thesaurus) and the BIDlab. I just happened to be assigned the BIDLab and have included a description of this awesome new tool
Just a note: these tools all seem to incorporate the emerging technology of artificial intelligence. I think you will enjoy the video clips included in this post.
The BIDLab Computer Software Tool
biomimetic design, biologically inspired design, conceptual design, creativity and concept generation
BIDLab™, or the Biomimetics for Innovation and Design Laboratory, is an affiliation of the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering at the University of Toronto. Biomimetic design utilizes a myriad of biological models, derived from natural systems, to solve engineering problems. Biological phenomena provide potential mechanisms that can be used in engineering to develop efficient, sustainable practices in engineering design. BIOLab™was designed as a tool to help engineers, who may possess limited knowledge regarding biological phenomena, conduct meaningful data-mining sessions regarding biological processes specifically related to the engineering problem they are attempting to resolve. (Nagel, 2008). The recent increase in the popularity of bioinspired engineering has placed demands on engineers who lack training in the biological arena. Engineers who lack biological training often experience:
problems deciding which biological phenomena are most relevant to their engineering issue
an overwhelming amount of matches to their query that may or may not be relevant.
language/terminology without quick links to paired engineering concepts. (Shu, 2014).
BIDLab™ provides engineers a tool that mines biological phenomena related to an engineering problem to produce a set of keywords specifically related to the query.
Description of the tool:
BIDLab™ provides engineers a tool that systematically maps/pairs engineering terms with biologically meaningful keywords using an online version of a textbook , Life, The Science of Biology, 6th Edition. W. H. Freeman & Company (Hoeller, 2012; Purves, 2000).
- How does it work?
An example of how this tool works is provided by research performed by Mak and Shu. Say for, for example, a group of engineers is looking for a method to clean textiles without the use of water, solvents or detergents. The students were provided this prompt:
- "Barriers and local agents defend the body – skin is a primary innate defense against invasion. The bacteria and fungi that normally live and reproduce in great numbers on our body surfaces without causing disease are referred to as normal flora. These natural occupants of our bodies compete with pathogens for space and nutrients, so normal flora are a form of innate defense."
When key words or phrases from the research prompt are entered as a query search in BIDLab™, the following chart may be generated that organizes information into a visual that guide’s the engineer’s research: (Cheong, 2014)
Important Features in the Design of the Tool
The BIDlab™ computer program organizes the pairing of biological to engineering information into four main levels:
• anomaly, where the biological concepts are not properly understood or the students fixated on particular words without relating to the strategy described in the biological extracts
biological transfer, where the designers are fixated on the biological actors at the expense of exploring the biological strategy
• literal implementation, in which both the biological strategy and the biological actors are carried over into the technical design
• strategic analogy, based on an abstraction of the principles derived from the biological phenomena
As mentioned before, the goal is to “think” for the researcher so that those engineers who lack intimate knowledge of biological processes are provided meaningful visuals that will minimize wasted time on literal, non-meaningful information. The program develops what is termed as a “causal template” that relates the actions of on object on another. The steps followed in developing this causal template are outlined below: (Shu, Nagle, 2008)
What is the desired function associated with the problem? What is the corresponding biological function?
• What does the biological function act on (object A)?
• What is the precedent function that allows or enables the desired function?
What initiates the precedent function (the subject) and what does the subject act on? (object B)
Once entered, the computer program generates an image or flowchart that simplifies abstract concepts and helps improve understanding of the biological concepts associated with the design.
Who Developed the program?
This programming software is being developed by Prof. Li Shu and her team at the Biomimetic for Innovation and Design Laboratory (BIDLab), University of Toronto. (http://www.mie. utoronto.ca/labs/bidlab/). Professor Shu obtained graduate degrees in Mechanical Engineering from MIT in the fields of human-computer interaction in computer-aided design (SM) and design for remanufacture as an approach to environmentally responsible product design (PhD).
From what you can gather from the description what are some of the steps that have to be followed when using this tool?
The first step is to identify a biological phenomenon with a clear cause and effect relationship. An example of this is provided below from a research paper by Mak and Shu (2008):
- “Fish can extract an adequate supply of oxygen from meager environmental sources by maximizing the surface area for diffusion, minimizing the path length for diffusion, and maximizing oxygen extraction efficiency by means of constant, unidirectional, countercurrent flow of blood and water over opposite sides of their gas exchange surfaces.”
The goal of the BIDLab™ program is to extract relationships and terms from this phenomenon that is useful to the engineer. Here is what Dr. Shu’s team extracted from the above biological phenomenon:
- ‘‘maximize the surface area of the gas exchange surfaces to maximize the removal of oxygen from the environment.’’
The program would then generate cause and relationships using key terms from the query. Here are the top four ENGINEERING applications from a list of 10 that the team identified from the initial paragraph:
1. Maximize surface area of gas exchange surfaces to maximize removal of oxygen from the environment .
2. Maximize surface area of gas exchange surfaces to
maximize removal of carbon dioxide from blood .
3. Maximize flow of blood and water to maximize
removal of oxygen from water .
4. Maximize the efficiency of gas exchange surfaces to
maximize removal of oxygen from meager environmental
The goal is to create a diagram with some sort of flowchart/heirarchy of relationship that only includes relevant terms with appropriate relatedness. Here is an example chart generated from this query:
I believe this could be helpful for me in the in the reverse method I presented above. In other words, I am biology heavy and by reversing the direction of information flow, I would be able to obtain more technical terms associated with the biological phenomena. For example, if I entered terms like osmosis and membranes I should be able to extract engineering terms like pressure, work, fluid dynamics, ect. What I like most about this program is the visual aspect. The goal of this tool is to create visual flowcharts of information that help novices understand material in a new knowledge domain. Illustrations can simplify complex information and clarify abstract concepts to aid in comprehension and visualization. (BIDLab online website).
There are few ideas that ran through my mind when I researched this tool.
First, I can clearly see that engineering students will be required to take some form of biology as part of their undergraduate requirements. I had a student who graduated 2nd in his class, completed three calculus courses and every AP science class EXCEPT AP BIOLOGY!!. I knew he wanted to attend MIT and major in engineering and I pleaded with him to take AP Biology so that he could effectively communicate with members of his freshmen research team who have surely taken AP Biology in high school. He made it to the final interviews and the fact that he didn’t have AP biology played a major role in the decline of his application.
Secondly, this exploration of artificial intelligence reminded me of a video that I show my AP biology students the first week of class. Dr. Shu’s team explores the interface between human and computers, identifying key terms and pairing meaning in an“informed” way. In my class, we explore what it means to be alive, the characteristics of living organisms. The video is from STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION, where DATA is on trial for his live. If you don’t know, DATA is a machine. A robot that is an extreme and ultimate example of artificial intelligence in action. I think you might enjoy showing this to your class if you teach biology and would like some interesting food for thought when you discuss the characteristics of life!!
Is Data Alive
Cheong, H., Chiu, I., Shu, L. H., Stone, R. B., & McAdams, D. A. (2011). Biologically Meaningful Keywords for Functional Terms of the Functional Basis. Journal of Mechanical Design, 133(2), 021007. doi:10.1115/1.4003249
"Faculty." Mechanical and Industrial Engineering. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Aug. 2014. <http://www.mie.utoronto.ca/faculty/profile.php?id=41>.
Hoeller, Norbert. "Developing Cross-Domain Analogies Using Natural-Language Sources." Zygote Quarterly 1 Sept. 2012: 131-44.
Mak, T. W., and Shu, L. H., “Using Descriptions of Biological Phenomena for Idea Generation,” Research in Engineering Design, 19(1), pp. 21–28. (2008).
Nagel, R. L., Midha, P. A., Tinsley, A., Stone, R. B., McAdams, D. A., and Shu, L. H., “Exploring the Use of Functional Models in Biomimetic Conceptual Design,” Journal of Mechanical Design, 130(12), p. 121-122. (2008)
"Outline of Natural Language Processing." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 31 July 2014. Web. 05 Aug. 2014. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Outline_of_natural_language_processing>.
Purves. (2000). Life, The Science of Biology, 6th Edition. W. H. Freeman & Company
Shu, Cheong. "Retrieving Causally Related Functions From Natural-Language Text for Biomimetic Design." Journal of Mechanical Design 136.8 (2014): 1-10. Print.