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THE FOUNDATION OF BIONICS R. R. ROTH* Bionics, as defined by the originator of the term in its present form, is "the science of systems whose foundation is based on Uving systems, or which have characteristics ofliving systems, or which resemble these" [1, p. 1 1]. Others define it in somewhat different terms, as for instance, "the study ofliving and life-Uke systems, with the goal to discover new principles , techniques and processes to be applied to man-made technology" [2]; or, in other words, the art of applying the knowledge of the functions of living systems to solving technical problems [1, p. 11], that is, a biological-engineering science. By its definition, therefore, bionics is one of the interdisciplinary areas, combining the life sciences with the engineering sciences. At present these interdisciplinary areas are (a) biophysics, (b) biomechanics, (c) cybernetics and biocybernetics, (d) Biotechnik or bionics, (e) bioengineering and biomedical engineering, and (f) information theory. A sharp demarcation among these areas is difficult, if not impossible, to make because they overlap to a large extent and often require the same basic information, differing only in the use and application of this information . For instance, we define biomechanics as the study ofstructures, functions, and mechanisms in animals and plants and the appUcation of this knowledge to the design of mechanical equipment for human use [3]. The word "bionics," as it appears today, originated with Maj. (later Col.)Jack E. Steele ofthe Aerospace Division ofthe U.S. Air Force, from the Greek word for life and suffix "ic," meaning "having the nature of" [4, p. 13]. According to Steele, he coined the term in August 1958 to promote bionics as a new science. The research program, which was to receive the name "bionics" in the spring of 1959, was inaugurated at the Wright-Patterson Center of the U.S. Air Force [1, p. 13]. Bionics was under discussion, for the first time, at the Twelfth Annual Aeronautical ?Department of Zoology, University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario, Canada N6A 5B7.© 1983 by The University of Chicago. AU rights reserved. 0031-5982/83/2602-0331$01.00 Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, 26, 2 · Winter 1983 | 229 Electronics Conference, held in May 1960. One session of the meeting, under the chairmanship of Dr. John E. Keto of the U.S. Air Force, was devoted to bionics. Four papers on bionics were read, including one by Major Steele. They were published in August 1960 in Waveguide, Dayton Section of the Institute ofRadio Engineers. However, the official launching of the new science took place in September 1960 when 700 engineers, physicists, mathematicians, psychologists, psychiatrists, biologists, and biophysicists were invited to a congress in Dayton, Ohio. About 30 participants spoke about bionics, and a 500-page volume provides the record of the occasion [5]. Thus it is presumed to be an established fact, recorded by historians and accepted by the modern world, that, as one author put it, "on September 13, 1960, a new science was born" [4, p. 13]. Gerardin expanded on this by saying, "While it is often difficult to give a precise date to the birth of a new science, this is certainly not the case for bionics" [1, p. 10]. And in his address to the first symposium, Steele himselfemphasized, "I know of not one biologist whose main activity is that of applying biological principles in the aid of machine design" [4, p. 14]. However, it is necessary to determine whether these statements are indeed valid and whether they have been corroborated by the historical facts. Was the science of bionics truly born on September 13, 1960, in Dayton? In the following, I propose to demonstrate that history appears to shed a different light on the subject. It is common knowledge that man, since prehistoric times, has copied nature in coundess instances during his slow ascendancy toward a technologically complex society. Then, about 6,000 years ago, man invented a mechanical device not found in its pure form in nature. Hertel attributed to the invention of the wheel the sudden change in direction of human technological development, which, from that time on, moved down a path far different from that taken by...


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