Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Lateral Innovation - Network Problem Solution from Nature

I analyze "adjacencies" and "lateralities" in innovation to discover solutions from industries a sector specific or vertical expert perhaps may not choose to.  Here is an excellent example of engineering solutions for network problems validated in natural organisms through the research of Atsushi Tero at PRESTO, Japan Science and Technology Agency in his recently published paper in the Science, "Rules for Biologically Inspired Adaptive Network Design".  The abstract:

"Transport networks are ubiquitous in both social and biological systems. Robust network performance involves a complex trade-off involving cost, transport efficiency, and fault tolerance. Biological networks have been honed by many cycles of evolutionary selection pressure and are likely to yield reasonable solutions to such combinatorial optimization problems. Furthermore, they develop without centralized control and may represent a readily scalable solution for growing networks in general. We show that the slime mold Physarum polycephalum forms networks with comparable efficiency, fault tolerance, and cost to those of real-world infrastructure networks—in this case, the Tokyo rail system. The core mechanisms needed for adaptive network formation can be captured in a biologically inspired mathematical model that may be useful to guide network construction in other domains."

The researchers grew the slime mold using 36 oat flake template representing cities around Tokyo, while they placed the mold itself on Tokyo.  The paper states:

"Overall, we conclude that the Physarum networks showed characteristics similar to those of the rail network in terms of cost, transport efficiency, and fault tolerance.  However, the Physarum networks self-organized without centralized control or explicit global information by a process of selective reinforcement of preferred routes and simultaneous removal of redundant connections."

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