Development of an ontology of biomimetics based on Altshuller’s Matrix

Abstract. The discovery of novel solutions in engineering is critical for most industries. Largely inspired by TRIZ, practical solutions can be found beyond engineering. In the wider search, the tradition of looking to biology for solutions (biomimetics) is well founded but little exploited. It turns out to be a non-trivial exercise, requiring a bridge between largely descriptive biology (functioning primarily at the molecular level) and engineering which is predictable (but at a more statistical level). We propose that the bridge is best built at the level of design, more particularly in the behaviour of solving well-defined problems, an aspect at which TRIZ excels. It turns out that an ontology is an excellent medium for this bridge. The central theorem is that there is a finite number of design problems expressed as trade-offs (Altshuller’s Matrix) and that the same (or very similar) trade-offs can be identified in biology. The ontology enables the identification and alignment of these trade-offs, thus marrying a problem in engineering with its solution in biology.

In 2008 Julian Vincent retired from the Chair of Biomimetics in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Bath.  His MA (zoology) was from the University of Cambridge; his PhD (insect hormones) and DSc (insect cuticle) were from the University of Sheffield. He is a professional Member of the Institute of Materials, a Chartered Engineer and a Fellow of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers. He spent most of his research career in the Zoology Department at the University of Reading, studying the mechanical design of organisms and working out ways in which aspects of the design can be used in technology.