Function Based Archival and Retrieval: Developing a Repository of Biologically Inspired Product Concepts

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Many new product concepts have been developed by using inspiration from the biological world. These bio-inspired concepts offer many advantages in the development of engineered products and devices. However, there exist difficulties in locating promising sources for bio-inspiration. This thesis describes the development of an open repository of biologically inspired product concepts that will provide engineers access to a new resource for design ideas and examples. The current repository contains 89 different biologically inspired products, and new product concepts can be submitted to the repository by their developers. In order to make these design concepts more accessible, a new and easy-to-use method of function based archival and retrieval was developed - the Functional Description Template. This method can be used to archive functions of all classes of products, but is used in this application for bio-inspired products and biological systems. The Functional Description Template uses an extensible functional language to record product functions so that they are more expressive and complete while still being computer interpretable. In order to evaluate this new method, a study was conducted that offers a direct comparison to a Functional Basis, an alternative approach to archiving functions. The evaluation showed that the Functional Description Template method allowed greater expressiveness and completeness in the user's recorded functional statements. Using the Functional Description Template method, the participants in the study recorded more matched terms, averaging an increase of 29 matched terms, and lost less functional information, averaging 7 fewer pieces of information lost. Also, the participants improved their correctness in recording their functions by an average of 23%. Evaluation forms completed by the participants also indicated that the Functional Description Template was easier to use and more accurate in recording the user's functions. In addition to the Functional Description Template, flexible search tools were proposed for the repository, which facilitate a content-based search of the products and concepts. Users can search for products that satisfy functions of similar meaning, but are stated with different terminology. Several different search criteria can also be used to retrieve the concepts available in the repository. This complete system offers a step towards improving the product development process by including bio-inspiration in future product design.