BioTac artificial fingertip

Credit: SynTouch LLC

BioTac artificial fingertip

As the design of objects increasingly mimics nature—and specifically the emulation of functions present in animals—our tools and devices will become more intimate reflections of ourselves. Biomimicry, of course, refers generally to the emulation of any natural species. Zoomimicry—the emulation of animal behaviors—is a subset of biomimicry that will bring particularly interesting qualities to industrial design and architecture, creating a bridge between our tools and us.

One example of zoomimicry is artificial touch. A technology called BioTac (developed by SynTouch) incorporates pressure and temperature sensors within a durable, deformable casing. Designed to function as a synthetic fingertip for robots as well as prostheses for humans, BioTac is made of a rigid sensor-filled core surrounded by a conductive fluid encased in an elastomeric skin. Like human skin, BioTac can perceive minute changes in the immediate environment, which are communicated via embedded electrodes.

The fact that BioTac is designed for use by both humans as well as robots suggests an intriguing range of possibilities. What happens when our tools become increasingly aware of their surroundings—and of us? Not only will such a capacity provide a more human dimension to our technology—creating robots that can feel, for example—but it will also extend our own technological abilities,such as by enabling remote-controlled, pressure-sensitive armatures for surgical operations.

The question remains: As technology continues to adopt animal functionality, will we be stymied by the "uncanny valley" phenomenon—Masahiro Mori's theory that technology becomes more repulsive as it becomes more lifelike? Alternatively, based on the many potential benefits of zoomimetic technology, will we overcome our fear and welcome such a development?