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Research Papers: Empirical Studies

Effects of Abstraction on Selecting Relevant Biological Phenomena for Biomimetic Design

[+] Author and Article Information
Tao Feng, Hyunmin Cheong

Department of Mechanical and
Industrial Engineering,
University of Toronto,
5 King's College Road,
Toronto, ON M5S 3G8, Canada

L. H. Shu

Department of Mechanical and
Industrial Engineering,
University of Toronto,
5 King's College Road,
Toronto, ON M5S 3G8, Canada
e-mail: shu@mie.utoronto.ca

1Corresponding author.

Contributed by the Design Theory and Methodology Committee of ASME for publication in the JOURNAL OF MECHANICAL DESIGN. Manuscript received January 24, 2014; final manuscript received July 25, 2014; published online October 8, 2014. Assoc. Editor: Ashok K. Goel.

J. Mech. Des 136(11), 111111 (Oct 08, 2014) (10 pages) Paper No: MD-14-1084; doi: 10.1115/1.4028173 History: Received January 24, 2014; Revised July 25, 2014

The natural-language approach to identifying biological analogies exploits the existing format of much biological knowledge, beyond databases created for biomimetic design. However, designers may need to select analogies from search results, during which biases may exist toward: specific words in descriptions of biological phenomena, familiar organisms and scales, and strategies that match preconceived solutions. Therefore, we conducted two experiments to study the effect of abstraction on overcoming these biases and selecting biological phenomena based on analogical similarities. Abstraction in our experiments involved replacing biological nouns with hypernyms. The first experiment asked novice designers to choose between a phenomenon suggesting a highly useful strategy for solving a given problem, and another suggesting a less-useful strategy, but featuring bias elements. The second experiment asked novice designers to evaluate the relevance of two biological phenomena that suggest similarly useful strategies to solve a given problem. Neither experiment demonstrated the anticipated benefits of abstraction. Instead, our abstraction led to: (1) participants associating nonabstracted words to design problems and (2) increased difficulty in understanding descriptions of biological phenomena. We recommend investigating other ways to implement abstraction when developing similar tools or techniques that aim to support biomimetic design.

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Copyright © 2014 by ASME
Topics: Design , Biomimetics
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Figures

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Fig. 1

Casual relation template with one-to-one mapping instructions (numbers suggest sequence), adapted from Cheong and Shu [9]

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Fig. 3

Frequency of reasons for choosing biological phenomena

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Fig. 2

Number of participants who made correct versus incorrect choice of relevant phenomena

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Fig. 4

Relevance ratings of biological phenomena. Error bars represent standard deviations.

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Fig. 5

Comparison of the differences in relevance ratings between phenomena. Error bars represent standard deviations.

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Fig. 6

Frequency of reasons for rating biological phenomena

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Fig. 7

Frequency of errors made in using the causal relation template and one-to-one mapping instructions

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