Capturing new concepts as we grow towards our goal of creating the Blind Watchmaker

As a new researcher within Biohaviour, my first task whilst liaising with the team was to understand and capture the concepts developed in Blind Watchmaker.

Blind Watchmaker has evolved from Design Genes by looking for inspiration from nature to give an unconstrained approach to engineering design. The team is building this link – the growth of an engineering model from a seed carrying the design genes.

Of course we understand genes in the biological sense. They are coded within DNA. They are nature’s script to build cells, tissues, leaves, flowers. They design the plant.

We too understand a gardener, who tends to the environment in which seeds are planted. They feed, train, shelter, deadhead and prune their plants, supporting growth and ensuring successful regrowth next year. The more experienced gardener can even control what grows by identifying the most attractive features of plants and splicing them together to create new growth.

So, as we follow nature’s design principles, how do we, as our concepts are created, define them within Blind Watchmaker – within the engineering domain?

The Design Genes exist.

The concept of an engineering model exists.

The in-between process are the results of this research. As the individual actors of the team now begin to interact, the concepts, their properties and the relations between them must be captured.

In effect, we establish the ontology of the Blind Watchmaker.

We begin, just as in nature, with genes, wrapped in a seed. These genes are defined by six parameters. Every gene has six parameters. That is finite. The seed contains many individual genes or gene groups.

The growth mechanism is created from growth patterns and growth rules. Many types of growth patterns exist, based on mathematical functions. A finite number of growth rules exist.

The environment is akin to the operating conditions of the product, represented virtually using computer-aided engineering (CAE) software. Feedback from this environment affects change in the growth mechanism and subsequent growth of the model.

Let’s take an example which most of us will remember from primary school; growing watercress. The same seed (theoretically), is planted in the same soil and placed by the window and in the cupboard. Some are given water. Some are not. We control the environment in which the seed grows. Low and behold, of course, the seeds grow in different ways. Some grow tall, upright and strong with many leaves. Some grow thin and bent in the direction of the light source, with few leaves. Some do not grow at all. It is all dependent on the environment and changes in the environment create changes in growth.

By constantly evaluating the growth within the environment (CAE tools) we are directing the growth to fit the goal requirements.

The process of growth is not straightforward, just as in nature. It all begins with a goal. Which as a concept in Blind Watchmaker, is critical for successful design, ( From this goal we can create our restrictions, our fitness and our guidance. These three concepts are our gardener, our designer; tending to the growth, ensuring it is meeting the requirements of the goal.

After planting the seed in its environment, we allow it to grow an initial step according to the pattern and the genes of the seed. From this initial step, it continues to grow whilst ensuring fitness with the goal, resulting in a cell or a cluster – the seed growth after a number of steps depending on the pattern acting on the seed; a simple change in a characteristic from the growth pattern or a replication of the initial growth step, respectively. The result of a defined number of growth steps is a cluster – a group individual cells. This process occurs in multiple environments, resulting in a population of clusters.

Guidance, in accordance with the goal, performs cluster selection and this cluster returns to all the environments for further growth.

Each successive iteration of the growth and guidance process creates generations of clusters. Many thousands of these iterations results in a virtual model that has satisfied restriction (those requirements defined by the goal).

These growth and cluster iterations are performed in many thousands of cycles. So within many thousands of cycles, many thousands of clusters are created and guided towards the goal, resulting in a collection of different virtual models that satisfy the customer’s goal.

Thus, the same seed has been grown and nurtured, with the resulting collection of virtual models all satisfying the primary goal, without the restrictions of ‘Design Control’.

With this ontology, we have begun to traverse from nature to engineering through the Blind Watchmaker.


Imelda Friel