Biomimetics, Micro-design, Arctium minus et al Hook and Velcro – A PhD and a Virtual Textbook on Biological Attachment Mechanisms and their Mimicking




The development of a micro-sized world continues.  This paper develops a logical approach to the process of designing a test-jig for micro-sized testing after a cladistical study of 3 classes of hooks, of two biomaterials, namely cellulose and chitin.  It summarises the approach that led to the final design of a probabilistic, frictional, long-shafted hooked device for measuring surface forces at microscopic scale, which is anticipated to be made of copper manufactured using scanning electro-deposition electron microscopy (SEM).




This is a review article of the three papers published in the Springer-Open journal, “The Journal of Robotics and Biomimetics” in a special issue on nano-/micro-robotics under the following titles:

  1. A biomimetic study of natural attachment mechanisms— Arctium minus part 1 [1]
  2. A biomimetic study of natural attachment mechanisms: imaging cellulose and chitin part 2 [2]
  3. Micro-design using frictional, hooked, attachment mechanisms: a biomimetic study of natural attachment mechanisms—Part 3 [3]

This research/design has been entered into the current Buckminster-Fuller Competition 2016 The title of part 3 above displays the underlying theory behind the exploration of the detail of papers 1 and 2. It accepts the viability of using cladistic methods to arrive at a scenario where a structure that has survived the “evolutionary sieve” is selected, to quote Nicklaus et al [4], over the use of Linnaeus or other classification methods which can be seen as insignificantly better when it comes to evolutionary manifestations of properties and/or structures. In other words all evolutionary models are all imperfect and so it is that the solution must indeed be imperfect too if it is to reflect the true nature of the Natural World i.e. testing is necessary before any firm conclusions can be reached. The use of the hook is a not very interesting thing, relatively. But it is also the ideal way to start with the designing of micro-sized (~100micron) objects because of the over-hang of the hook which is of the minimal complexity to test the programmer [see [4]] can be assembled into machine-like components for manufacture. Their origins are a little too old for one to understand their development since the designs are based in evolutionary theory, which is utilised in order to identify which structures are viable and of suitable length and strength to be of use in the manufacture of computer components to attach to PCB’s (printed circuit boards).


This work derives from a thesis proposal: “The Functional Ecology and Mechanical Properties of Biological Hooks in Nature” which led to a dispelling of the myth that an engineer cannot do a biological subject in that the researcher was the first person to use a confocal microscope by virtue of his imaging knowledge. It led to the theory that there is a way of being able to measure the proportional forces being used in the attachment of those mechanisms that could be measured and used to manufacture a hook that would indeed be of use, but not as expected. Of course the first view was that it was unsuitable to measure with current technology as it was then and now it has become possible only through the work of Hirt et al [5], by their work on SEM (scanning electrodeposition electron microscopy). Now a hook can be manufactured at a 1:1 scale to the specimen that is to be reverse engineered and that means that designers are on the brink of being able to make things that are of use, in the micro-realm (of the order of 10-100 microns in size). It all began with the discovery that it was possible to image one of the hooked probabilistic fasteners under laser light, namely the cellulose hook of burdock (Arctium minus). Therefore the work continued with the chitinous growths of the bee and the grasshopper (Apis mellifera and Omocestus viridulus) tarsii [2]. This encounter with luck was able to make true the theory that the use of the microscope could be for the imaging of a specimen and then the transfer of data directly to a layered manufacture device that was suitable, namely the SEM work of Hirt et al [5]. The point of this imaging was to use it to describe the group of probabilistic fasteners as a number, namely one for the hook, two for the attachment mechanism of the grasshopper O. viridulus with two hooks, and three for the double set of hooks, namely A. mellifera with a separating arolium which could make it all seem like they are intended to prove the theory right and not wrong. The chance of being on top of a specimen structure available without travelling is immense, as these were all available at the University of Bath which is set in the countryside of Western England. Particularly the burdock which is used (apparently) as the basis of Velcro but it is concluded this is without fundament and it seemed better to use it than to use the others (see below), as it will be shown, for the production of a new hook, a multi-use flat structure of multiple hooks that could be used without being entirely known, as per its value and knowledge. i.e. if it is to be the one to be imitated then it needs to be studied more now so that it can be manufactured.


Referring to the Figure of the burdock “head” or seedpod, the following is asked of the reader: “Do you think that it can be reproduced effectively as per the table below, from where I have shown it to be a better hook than those of the other four, namely the Agrimonia eupatoria, Circaea lutetiana, Galium aparine, and Geum urbanum” [6]?



The aim therefore, is to develop a Universal micro-robotic frictional probablistic attachment mechanism with a performance that can be modelled graphically, using Biomimetic principles. This is called a Universal Foot after the fact that a human foot is a frictional probabilistic attachment mechanism and because its performance is to be modelled graphically for design, performance, material, quality and other parameters, its universal qualities.


The above question is asked because the burdock hook is stronger and not weaker and therefore the best example to be reproduced and hence it is of the best form, whether of cellulose or of chitin, since it has a long shaft and an end that is available to the head of a layered manufacturing device. In the end it is a misnomer to think that it could be any more than a reproduction of the shaft that makes it fast and not slow to reproduce since it is of a cellulose hook, not chitin which is a very complicated biomaterial and therefore it is not easy to reproduce its properties. With cellulose however, it is a known material that has been much studied and therefore it is available to be reproduced via a green theory workplace in the future. Until then we shall make do with copper, not gold, since it is the cheaper of the two and therefore available to mass production and can be seen to be the best fit for the solution of making a reproduce-able hook that will sustain in making it to the end of the product lifecycle. See [1] again for the details of the imaging and deposition process. Figure 2 below shows the data cloud that is utilised by SEM.


With respect to a Universal Foot it is impossible to sustain its probability of fastening since there is a possibility that it should not hold the correct angle on the surface/substrate. That will be overcome with a hinge that will allow the foot to align with the ground according to its angle and not the angle of application. It therefore can be used by the military to develop further and so it is about to be since it has application to the frontier of technology and the use is yet to be completely foreseen, such as micro-robotics, biosensors, computer hardware, orthodontics and optical sensors through the use of copper which is a very known substance with qualities that have been researched and ascertained through its use as a strain gauge and other common applications. It will be seen that there are a number of solutions to the problem of a Universal Foot and that means a testrig will have to be devised such that it can measure the forces with which a hook attaches to a substrate and that is the way through to the end of the series such that each member of the group of probabilistic fasteners can be measured, of different biological materials as imaged in [2]. In the meantime it is possible to make deductions such that a design can be arrived at that resembles a caterpillar yet makes use of the hook of the burdock and the range of movement that requires needful thinking so that it can be measured. Once this is done we have a product which can be commercialised. Part 2 [2] contains the results of the experimentation to image cellulose and chitin and this will prove useful in the future when we consider a wide range of hooking and other mechanisms/devices since it will be in the interest of those continuing the study to know the difference between the two and whether they can use the data to make hooks that are biological such as those to attach to the stomach wall or the vessels of the heart since they bear cilia which makes them difficult to render in a stainless steel as with a stent. But when it is available it may be possible to make them from a biological material which does not dissolve such as the MIT device which, when swallowed, removes a watch battery from the stomach wall to avoid a ulcer forming there or to patch a wound, steered by magnetic fields and which is still in the experimental phase. It is made from pig’s sinew which is insoluble but which does not lend itself to electro-deposition of course so an alternative will need to be found. The electrodeposition of stainless steel has been investigated by Hasegawa et al [7] and it shows that an improvement has been made to the processing of an otherwise inert steel that does not corrode or “anodize” and it can be electro-deposited on copper [8]. This will make the stainless steel coated copper relatively biologically inert.


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