Biomimetic refers to human-made processes, substances, devices, or systems that imitate nature.
The art and science of designing and building biomimetic apparatus is also known as biomimicry because they mimic biological systems. The field is of special interest to researchers in nanotechnology, robotics, artificial intelligence (AI), the medical industry, and the military.
Some biomimetic processes have been in use for years. An example is the artificial synthesis of certain vitamins and antibiotics. More recently, biomimetics have been suggested as applicable in the design of machine vision systems, machine hearing systems, signal amplifiers, navigational systems, and data converters. A neural network is a biomimetic system that works by making associations and educated guesses, and that can learn from its own mistakes; an android is a humanoid robot designed to have the same basic form and kinetic abilities as a human.
Here's how biomimicry is applied to enable an electronic nose:
An electric nose detects the chemical components of an odor and performs analysis to identify it based on that information. Every odor is made up of molecules and each molecule is a particular size and shape, which corresponds to a similarly-sized and shaped receptor in the human nose. When specific receptors in a human nose receive their matching molecules, they send signals to the brain, which identifies the smell associated with those particular molecules. Electronic noses based on the biological model work similarly, substituting sensors for receptors and transmitting the signal to a software program for processing, rather than to the brain.
Other possible applications of biomimetics include nanorobot antibodies that seek and destroy disease-causing bacteria, artificial organs, artificial arms, legs, hands, and feet, and various electronic devices. One of the more intriguing ideas is the so-called biochip, a microprocessor that grows from a starter crystal in much the same way that a seed grows into a tree, or a fertilized egg grows into an embryo.
See Janine Benyus' TED talk, Biomimicry in action: