Biological and Biomimetic Systems
█ JUDYTH SASSOON
Animals depend on a variety of adaptations and behaviors for reacting to their environment including locomotion, navigation, and the compilation of sensory input into recognizable patterns. The success of these various behaviors is determined by an animal's fitness, which is defined in evolutionary terms as the number of offspring that live to reach reproductive age. Among other effects, these adaptations and behaviors may increase the amount of food an animal forages; increase the number of mates an animal has; or decrease the number of predators an animal encounters. These strategies, which animals have developed through evolutionary pressures, are ideal for incorporation into military systems that navigate, maneuver, sense, analyze, and respond to complex environments.
The Defense Advance Research Projects Agency (DARPA) of the United States government supports a program called Controlled Biological and Biomimetic Systems, whose goal is to incorporate biological evolutionary strategies into new animals or robots that can detect and report the presence of environmental dangers. Some of the applications of the program include developing the capability for mapping the concentration and distribution of toxins within the air, land or water in real time; gathering information on environmental conditions in inaccessible locations or using biological organisms to make the environment more hospitable for troops. The program's aims are entirely defensive. Both private corporations and public laboratories and institutions have been awarded grants within the program.
There are currently three major thrusts of research in the Controlled Biological and Biomimetics Systems program. The goal of the vivisystems program is to exploit live animals, in particular insects, as sentinels for reporting on environmental dangers, including biological weapons. The hybrid biosystems program focuses on developing neural probes that can be used to extract sensory information from animals, in particular insects. The objective of the biomimetics program is to synthesize the biomechanics, neural systems and materials found in organisms for the use in robotic systems.
█ FURTHER READING:
Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Defense Sciences Office < http://www.darpa.mil/dso/thrust/biosci/etc.htm. > (March 11, 2003).
Controlled Biological Systems < http://www.darpa.mil/dso/thrust/biosci/cbs/index.html. > (March 11, 2003).
Bio-Engineered Tissue Constructs
Biological Input/Output Systems (BIOS)
Biological Warfare, Advanced Diagnostics
Bio-Optic Synthetic Systems (BOSS)