Since the dawn of time, humankind has looked to nature for inspiration. From the tragedy of Icarus to modern building designs, biomimicry probably shouldn't be thought of as a new concept. When looking for inspiration you can't go wrong with millions of years of bio-mechanical trial and error.
The do or die history of life on Earth has led to some truly remarkable engineering feats in nature. It should come as no surprise then, that designers, engineers and architects are increasingly taking inspiration from the world around us.
Nature's bounty has inspired buildings, trains, prosthetics, robots and even fashion accessories. In the following article, we'll look at a few modern examples of biomimicry in design and technology. Enjoy.
We'll kick things off with a cephalopod appendage inspired prosthetic limb. But why would you do such a thing? Inspired by nature and the study of prosthetic use, designer Kaylene Kau created the tentacle prosthetic. She says:
"Through extensive research, I found that the prosthetic functioned as an assistant to the dominant functioning hand. The prosthetic needed to be both flexible and adjustable in order to accommodate a variety of different grips.”
The tentacle design offers great versatility and is a great example of biomimicry, even if it looks a little odd.
Designed by Antony Gibbon Designs, these cool looking treehouses are based on Baobab trees which have large swollen-looking trunks. The treehouses are intended to blend in with the supporting trees and wrap around the trunks like a result of natural growth. The structures not only compliment nature but also attach to trees using a set of braces to prevent damage and allow the tree to grow.
Gecko Climbing "Feet"
Inspired by the fantastic climbing abilities of geckos, these pads enable humans to scale sheer surfaces for no apparent reason. Just like the originals, these pads use sawtooth-shaped polymer structures about the width of a human hair.
Like the tiny hairs on geckos toes, these man-made versions create an adhesion force when pulled against. This great example of biomimicry was achieved by researchers at Stanford working with the US Defence Advanced Reseach Projects Agency (DARPA).
Kingfisher Bullet Train
Japan's Shinkansen Bullet Train was a marvel of modern technology. The train could travel at speeds of 320 kilometers per hour. As impressive as that is, it had one major criticism when it was debuted. It was very loud. Whenever the train exited a tunnel the change in air pressure created thunderclaps that could be heard up to 400 meters away.
The chief engineer happened to also be a bird watcher. To solve the problem, he was inspired by the shape of the beaks of birds and their aerodynamic properties. Taking inspiration from the mighty kingfisher, the train's nose was redesigned to mimic the bird's sleek profile and beak. This allowed for the train to run quieter and also consume 15 percent less electricity and travel 10 percent faster. It also looks sleek, not bad.
Could you imagine a disaster locating drone that had the maneuverability of spiders? Well, luckily German Researchers at Fraunhofer Insitute did. Inspired by spiders' ability to squeeze through tight spaces and turn on the spot, they developed an ideal model for life-saving robots. Another benefit of these bots is the possibility of producing them cheaply by using 3D printers.
“This high-tech assistant is still a prototype, but future plans envision its use as an exploratory tool in environments that are too hazardous for humans, or too difficult to get to. After natural catastrophes and industrial or reactor accidents, or in fire department sorties, it can help responders, for instance by broadcasting live images or tracking down hazards or leaking gas.”
Now that's a spider I would greet with open arms.
Shark skin coating
Taking inspiration from the microscopic pattern of scales on some fast swimming sharks, NASA and 3M developed a similar technology to reduce drag on aircraft and boats. The plan was to attempt to improve aircraft fuel efficiency through friction and turbulent airflow. They produced V-shape and angled plates that point to the direction of air/water flow. The groves were also no deeper than a scratch.
In nature, the microscopic pattern of a shark’s skin reduces drag and prevents microorganisms from building up. Pretty awesome.
Biomimicry Heliotrope Follows the Movements of the Sun
This lighting device created by Jonathan Ota mimics plants' ability to track the sun. These "flowers" with small solar panels have silvery artificial petals and LED lights in the center. They use the stored solar power to operate tiny pistons powered by evaporating alcohol to move the petals. They close during the day and open up at night. What a nifty design.
Tree-Climbing Inchworm Robots
Utilizing tactile sensors, these little robots can find their way up tree trunks in the same fashion as inchworms. They feel around to determine where they need to grasp for the best grip. These little robots can even haul loads up sharp incline branches. The creator's state:
“The objective of the development of Treebot is to assist or replace human being in performing forestry tasks on trees. Although the information obtained by tactile sensors is not rich, it is reliable. Furthermore, the processing of tactile information is much simpler than that of visual information.”
Bird Skull Shoe
The skeletons of birds are incredibly strong and lightweight. This combination of attributes makes an obvious feature to copy when designing high heel shoes. The aesthetics and shape of a bird's skull led Marieka Ratsma to design and produce unusual, lightweight and strong shoes. Marieka collaborated with Architect Kostika Spaho to produce the "Biomimicry Shoe". These shoes offer plenty of support with less material for "optimal, efficiency, strength and elegance". Frankly, I don't normally care about women's shoes but these certainly made me look twice.