Posts Tagged ‘biomimicry’

Science Hacks Our Fiction (And The Feeling Is Mutual)

Science fiction loves robots to pieces, but fortunately for genre writers and fans, the feeling is mutual. Engineers and scientists are working near-miracles in the robotics field, and the fruits of their labor are ripe for fiction’s picking. 2012 is still young by most accounts, yet this year robots have already grown tails and scales, acquired aerial speed limits, and learned to swim like a boss. Next they’ll be popping-up in swarms and colonizing our eaves. Or better yet: We’ll wear them on our hands to reduce the repetitive stress injuries we’re causing ourselves by trying to write ever-cleverer new robots into science fiction faster than actual science can render the bots of our dreams obsolete.

Probably the only way we writers can keep up with – or even hope to outpace – the current rate of robotic development is by imagining new purposes and roles for robots. It’s unlikely that scientists and engineers will ever stop endeavoring to simulate humanity and integrate androids into society, as lofty as that goal is. But if real bots must eventually look like and learn like humans, the least we can do is give readers more interesting robots to read about than the one that sweeps floors and amuses cats, or the android in the kitchen with Dinah. We already use droids for offense and defense, manufacturing, and surgery. Robotic search and rescue is a high priority for research and development, and it looks like construction may soon be crawling with bots. So what frontiers does that leave fiction to explore?

Plenty. The world already includes many different kinds of robots with different functions and forms, and the diversity of artificial ‘species’ will only continue to expand (even as natural diversity contracts at an alarming rate). As robots abound, they will inevitably need to interact well with natural species and with each other in order to satisfy human demands. They’ll need to function optimally with a minimum of human guidance, and endure at times in spite of human intervention. Face it: We abuse our tools and hack our toys. Robots need to be resilient just to survive life among humans. There’s enough fodder for stories in those last few sentences alone to keep an author busy for the length of a so-called Golden Age of fiction…

The strange android had stepped from behind an overgrown bougainvillea and disabled their Guardians before they’d even known it was there. “Remain calm, children. I won’t hurt you.” It spoke like a classic film actress, its voice a disarming combination of cultured and flinty that the boys recognized from their seventh grade film history elective but had never heard in person. Read an excerpt from ‘Parent Hack’ by Kay T. Holt

From Mud Boots to Polyester – Fashion’s Still Nothing but Shelter, Status and Sex

Once upon a time, a young human with mud on her feet revolutionized the world…

That’s hyperbolic; like fire, the first clothing was probably not discovered by any single person, or only one time, or even in just one place. But I strongly suspect that the first clothing, also like fire, was discovered rather than invented. And although there’s no way to prove it, I believe the first clothes were made of mud.

Mud clothes make sense if you consider our origins. We evolved in Africa, near the equator. It was hot, water was often scarce, and unlike other primates’, our bodies were going bald. We certainly had sense enough to shelter ourselves from the worst of the elements, but few animals can afford to sit in the shade all day and wait for food and water to come to them. No, since the beginning, people have had to go places to get what they need.

Which brings us back to the oasis, or the riverbank, or the lakeshore. At some point, a hot human got mud on her feet and discovered evaporative cooling. And the rest is prehistory.

Recently, some rather better-dressed humans took a close look at the DNA of clothing lice and determined (based on an assumed rate of mutation) that humans first started wearing clothes about 170,000 years ago. Of course, they’re not referring to mud boots or the body paint that likely followed. They’re talking about fur, feather, and fiber – clothing as we know it.

Sometime after the discovery of evaporative cooling, other prehistoric geniuses bent their minds to the necessity of insulation. I figure two things happened: First, our nomadic progenitors started building better overnight shelters, and then they figured out how to carry them on their backs. Whether the first were itchy grass mats or stinky, stiff animal skins is unimportant. What matters is that the first clothes were probably only worn in transit. Somewhere along the way, a brilliant nomad just stopped taking off her shelter at the end of the day. Look ma, no hands and no goosebumps.

Now we wear polyester, which is a petroleum product, and in a way that takes us full circle to our mud boot-wearing days. Too, we adorn ourselves for all the same reasons we always did – shelter, status, sex, etc. In other words, not much has changed since we got the hang of regulating our body temperatures externally. Sure, we have wetsuits and spacesuits (and self-popping pup tents and penthouse suites), but where do we go from here?

When was the last time we saw any truly novel garments in fiction or in life? Is it even possible to revolutionize clothing again, or has human adornment peaked at spacesuits?

A few parting links:

Self-cleaning fabric inspired by dove feathers.

Helmet membrane designed after human skin.

Shoes that imitate mountain goat feet.

Fabric with pigment-less color based on the structure of butterfly scales.

Other biomimetic clothing options.