E2bmo: Facilitating user interaction with a biomimetic ontology via semantic translation and interface design

Sarah J. McInerney, Banafsheh Khakipoor, Austin M. Garner, Thibaut Houette, Colleen K. Unsworth, Ariana Rupp, Nicholas Weiner, Julian F.V. Vincent, Jacquelyn K.S. Nagel, Peter H. Niewiarowski

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Function is a key central concept to the practice of biomimicry. Many published models of the biomimicry process include steps to identify, understand, and translate function of biological systems. Examples include functional modeling, decomposition, or abstraction with tools specifically designed to facilitate such steps. A functional approach to biomimicry yields a semantic bridge between biology and engineering, enabling practitioners from a variety of backgrounds to more easily communicate and collaborate in a biomimicry design process. Although analysis of function is likely a necessary part of biomimicry design, recent work suggests it is not sufficient without a more systematic understanding of the complex biological context in which a function exists (e.g., scale and trade-offs). Consequently, emerging tools such as ontologies are being developed that attempt to capture the intricacies of biological systems (including functions), such as their complex environmental and behavioral interactions. However, due to the complexity of such tools, they may be under-utilized. Here, we propose a solution through a computer-aided user interface tool which integrates a biomimetic ontology with a thesaurus-based functional approach to biomimicry. Through a proof of concept illustrative case study, we demonstrate how merging existing tools can facilitate the biomimicry process in a systematic and collaborative way, broadening solution discovery. This work offers an approach to making existing tools, specifically the BioMimetic Ontology, more accessible and encompassing of different perspectives via semantic translation and interface design. This provides the user with the opportunity to interface and extract information from both the Engineering-to-Biology Thesaurus and the BioMimetic Ontology in a way that was not possible before. The proposed E2BMO tool not only increases the accessibility of the BioMimetic Ontology, which ultimately aims to streamline engineers’ interaction with the bio-inspired design process, but also provides an option for practitioners to traverse biological knowledge along the way, encouraging greater interdisciplinary collaboration and consideration when conducting biomimicry research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number53
Pages (from-to)1-20
Number of pages20
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Biologically inspired design
  • BioMimetic Ontology
  • Biomimetics
  • Biomimicry
  • Engineering-to-Biology Thesaurus
  • Innovation
  • Ontology
  • Simplified Knowledge Organization System

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Engineering (miscellaneous)


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