Biomimetic Sensors – An Overview

Biomimetics. I guess most people who hear that word will think of the lotus effect or bioinspired shapes and forms such as Velcro or gecko’s feet . Maybe someone is thinking about some kind of natural inspired optimization e.g. honeycomb structures. In my experience nobody thinks about sensor, which is one of the biggest field for biomimetic applications. That’s why I would like to introduce that topic a little bit deeper in today’s article.

My last article dealt with structures and colors and included a small part about a sensor. This time I try to tackle this topic more generally.

Nature has developed and optimized an incredible variety of sensors for navigation, spatial orientation, prey and object detection, etc., which provide engineers new ideas for improvements to current technology, new sensor technology and potential sensor miniaturization.

(Bleckmann, et al., 2004).

What is a sensor?

Before I tell you a “standard” definition, I will play a little bit around with the word „sensor“ itself, because it includes nearly all things to understand the connection to biomimetics.

Like our abilities to see, hear, taste, feel and smell, is a sensor nothing else but a device to sense. Of course you maybe can also sense situations to be dangerous or something else. Most of the time you use your senses in a passive way. You are not aware of it. But let’s break it down. Think of your own interpretation of your senses and how could they work in principle.

  • Your sensation to see something with your eyes is nothing else than an optical sensor.
  • An acoustic sensor could be inspired by human’s ears.
  • Feeling different temperatures could be an application for thermal or radiation sensor.
  • To smell and taste could be initiated by a chemical reaction.

Most sensors come with an electrical part. For us humans this would be the nervous system. For a technical sensor it is the support system converting the measurement results into an electrical signal.

Following, you can find a more general definition. I combined it out of different sources.

A sensor is an element, which can measure specific physical, chemical or geometric properties (and/or substantial conditions of its environment) in qualitative way or as a quantitative parameter. These parameters are detected and converted into an electrical signal.

Kinds of sensors

In the late 80’ R. M. White created a scheme of sensor classification. He set 10 categories of sensors:

  • Acoustic
  • Biological
  • Chemical
  • Electric
  • Optical
  • Magnetic
  • Mechanical
  • Radiation
  • Thermal
  • Other

Additional categories:

Extroreceptors are biological cells, which can take stimuli from an external environment and transduce a signal. This will generate a response from the system, which can be used. These Extroreceptors are generating sub-level categories for sensors, like chemoreceptors, photoreceptors, etc.

(edited, Sperelakis, 1998)

Examples for biomimetic sensors






  • Artificial halters
  • Artificial muscle spindle
  • Artificial meissner corpuscles
  • Artificial lateral line system
  • Campaniform sensillum strain sensor
  • Carbon microcoil tactile sensors
  • Electroactive polymer muscle
  • Micromachined campaniform sensillum strain sensor
  • Artificial posture monitoring
  • Artificial crustacean antenna


(Stroble, 2009)*

Here you can see a list of sensor, which are all inspired by nature. Some of them are famous, some of them are slowly finding their way onto the market.

Developing a new kind of Biomimetic sensor does not mean, that the result needs to be a mimicry of the original, natural system. This link, to one of our first articles, includes a small reminder about the biomimetic developing process.

*No link does not mean I found nothing, but too much. So feel free to use it as an initial platform.


General Overview and Article Picture – J.K. Stroble (now Nagel), R.B. Stone, S.E. Watkins (2009); „An overview of biomimetic sensor technology„, Sensor Review 29, 2, 112-119.

Bleckmann, H., Schmitz, H. and von der Emde, G., (2004), „Nature as a model for technical sensors„, Journal of Comparative Physiology A, Neuroethology, sensory,neural and behavioral physiology, 190, 12, 971-981.

Bell, A., (2006), „Sensors, motors, and tuning in the cochlea: interacting cells could form a surface acoustic wave resonator„, Journal of Bioinspiration and Biomimetics, 1, 96- 101.

Nagle, H.T., Gutierrez-Osuna, R. and Schiffman, S.S., (1998), „The how and why of electronic noses„, IEEE Spectrum, 22-31.

Sperelakis, N., (1998), Cell physiology source book, Academic Press, San Diego.

Jan Berger

I'm Jan and I'm exploring this world since 1986. I work as an laboratory technician for surface analytics in the wonderful city of Villach/Austria. Before that I studied Bionik/Biomimetics in Energy Systems (MSc) and I have a degree as a Bachelor of Engineering for Renewable Energy Engineering. My favorite topics are membranes (biological and mechanical ones) and trees. Besides my job I administrate this blog and other homepages. Besides I do a bunch of other geeky stuff including lecturing biomimetics.

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