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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/R003564/1
Title: Biohaviour - Building the Blind Watchmaker
Principal Investigator: Price, Professor M
Other Investigators:
Kilpatrick, Dr P Nolan, Dr D C Nikolopoulos, Professor D
Robinson, Professor TT
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Airbus Operations Limited Deloitte UK Glen Dimplex Group (UK)
ITI International TechneGroup Ltd
Department: Sch Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering
Organisation: Queen's University of Belfast
Scheme: Standard Research
Starts: 01 November 2017 Ends: 31 July 2021 Value (£): 792,707
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Design Engineering
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
06 Jun 2017 Engineering Prioritisation Panel Meeting 6 and 7 June 2017 Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form

To create many of the complex products and systems we have around us we have needed advanced technology. But to create the volume and complexity of products we have also needed complex organisational systems and processes. Large complex organisations have in particular relied on the Systems Engineering process, to help guide complex projects to completion. Many products, such as aircraft, only exist because of this systematic approach. But this systematic approach has a downside. To maintain control of a complex design it is necessary to fix ideas and concepts, and work through detail in a top-down approach. This flow down keeps development within the bounds of the original idea or concept, but naturally prevents innovation and variation. Such variation and innovation are in some ways the enemy of the controlled organisation needed to keep a global enterprise on track. One great fear is the phenomenon of emergence; inherently unknowable behaviour. Ironically this kind of innovation is desperately needed to take advantage of the opportunities offered by new technologies, such as additive manufacturing, or distributed cloud based manufacturing. But marrying these technologies within a complex fixed organisational structure and process is very difficult.

Building on the success of the Design the Future project "In Search of Design Genes" this work looks to nature for inspiration, for an unconstrained approach to engineering design. Introducing the concept of 'Biohaviour' we follow the behaviour of natural growth rather than biomimicry. The creation of an elemental set of rules based on energy and equilibrium, could allow variation to naturally arise in design. In nature, the rules are applied blindly with no fixed final form. That final form only arising as a consequence of its environment. Trees and bamboo are wonderful examples of this.

Our hypothesis is that by reimagining design as a series of elemental rules and growth mechanisms that react to environment and stimuli, the design of complex systems will be simplified, and emergence could be used as a tool for innovation beyond conventional paradigms.

We see four major challenges:

* Obtaining growth rules for component seeds to allow components to emerge from the activity

* Defining stimuli that will make the component seeds grow and establishing if that growth can be controlled via the stimuli.

* Developing fast, scalable, event triggered systems to enable real time creation of complex designs.

* Capturing the emergent behaviour into a working set of parameters which can interact with existing design and manufacturing systems - i.e. is there a set of parameters which will define a CAD model?

In this project we will investigate theoretical aspects of this approach, and the practical implications of using these elementary rules in engineering design. We will develop novel computational methods for fast, scalable, event triggered systems to represent component seeds' growth behaviour, which will create a design depending on the environment around it. The seeds will grow to form a more complete component or system which can be envisioned in a CAD system. The seeds and shoots will have the ability to spawn others as the system develops in response to the environment. For example, forming a branch, or root, or in an engineering context a stiffener or hole.

The result should be a set of rules encapsulated in a prototype Cloud service, that will automatically create a component from a simple seed definition. Depending on its surroundings, it will grow large or small, taking form, shape & colour according to need. One seed should be capable of producing a variety of solutions, generating innovation naturally. By tweaking the rules and behaviours we expect to allow some emergent behaviour to occur. This feeds back to the aim of this study - to establish if these elementary rules can be put to effective use in design - and to create the Blind Watchmaker.

Key Findings
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Potential use in non-academic contexts
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Organisation Website: http://www.qub.ac.uk