Engineers at Stanford University have developed a technique for improved optical sensing and subsequently recognized that it works in the same way as a gecko's ears. The same underlying principle also describes an interference phenomenon between closely arranged atoms.
It is fairly common for inventions to find an analogue in the natural world or another technical field - the inspiration for the invention sometimes even comes from the analogue (such as cat's eyes). Similarly, inventions frequently arise by applying a technology known in one field to a very different application.
Scientists and engineers are typically modest in such situations and will highlight the similarities between their development and the known science. On that basis, they will sometimes make an incorrect assumption that their development is obvious and thus not patentable. Checking with a patent attorney is always wise, especially where the invention may be of any commercial value. Inventions can come from anywhere!
By structuring nanowires in a way that mimics geckos’ ears, researchers have found a way to record the incoming angle of light. This technology could have applications in robotic vision, photography and augmented reality