Sensing in nature: using biomimetics for design of sensors

Torben Anker Lenau, Hyunmin Cheong, Li Shu

    Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


    Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to illustrate how biomimetics can be applied in sensor design. Biomimetics is an engineering discipline that uses nature as an inspiration source for generating ideas for how to solve engineering problems. The paper reviews a number of biomimetic studies of sense organs in animals and illustrates how a formal search method developed at University of Toronto can be applied to sensor design. Design/methodology/approach – Using biomimetics involves a search for relevant cases, a proper analysis of the biological solutions, identification of design principles and design of the desired artefact. The present search method is based on formulation of relevant keywords and search for occurrences in a standard university biology textbook. Most often a simple formulation of keywords and a following search is not enough to generate a sufficient amount of useful ideas or the search gives too many results. This is handled by a more advanced search strategy where the search is either widened or it is focused further mainly using biological synonyms. Findings – A major problem in biomimetic design is finding the relevant analogies to actual design tasks in nature. Research limitations/implications – Biomimetics can be a challenge to engineers due to the terminology from another scientific discipline. Practical implications – Using a formalised search method is a way of solving the problem of finding the relevant biological analogies. Originality/value – The paper is of value as most present biomimetic research is focused on the understanding of biological phenomena and does not have as much focus on the engineering design challenges.
    Original languageEnglish
    JournalSensor Review
    Issue number4
    Pages (from-to)311-316
    Publication statusPublished - 2008


    • Sensory perception
    • Sensors
    • biomimetics
    • bionik
    • Biology
    • Sense organs

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