All You Need to Know about Biomimicry and How It Is Changing the Way We Design
Perhaps you have seen the word pop up across social media? Or, maybe you have a friend who throws the word around randomly in conversation. Today we are going to explore the exciting world of biomimicry, examine how it is already changing the world around us, and explore how it could help tackle some of the world’s current issues. However, we are getting ahead of ourselves.
Now, biomimicry itself has to do with nature; learning from it to create new products and solutions. This is not completely new. Artists, designers, philosophers, scientists, mathematicians, and even engineers have looked to nature for thousands of years with the aims to unravel the mysteries of nature.
Even the great Leonardo Da Vinci obsessed over nature’s natural beauty, using it as a springboard for many of his eccentric inventions and creative creations. The late great fashion designer Alexander Mcqueen once said “There is no better designer than nature.” But, how true is this statement?
Learning from nature
So, at this point, you probably have a general idea or an approximation of what exactly biomimicry is about. Let’s dive deeper. One of the leading proponents of biomimicry, Janine Benyus, has gone on to define biomimicry as a practice that learns from and mimics the strategies found in nature to solve human design challenges — and find hope along the way.
However, it goes beyond just looking to nature for design and engineering ideas. As stated by the Biomimicry Institute, “Innovators turn to biomimicry with the hope of achieving a unique product that is efficient and effective, but they often gain a deep appreciation of and connection to the natural world...Biomimicry encourages conservation for ecosystems and its inhabitants because they hold the wisdom we need.”
In short, the functionality and design of some of nature’s systems or even animals can provide engineers and designers alike guided inspiration in a wide range of industries that affect our everyday lives that, include but are not limited to, carbon capture solutions, clothing energy, agriculture, automotive design, architecture, and art.
A sustainable solution to our challenges
At this point, hopefully, you have begun to grasp the main ideas behind biomimicry. There are currently many science institutions and leading businesses like Arizona State University, the International Living Future Institute, Nike, P&G fully behind the “biomimicry movement”. Nevertheless one of the main pillars behind biomimicry is sustainability.
“Biomimicry ushers in an era based not on what we can extract from nature, but on what we can learn from her. This shift from learning about nature to learning from nature requires a new method of inquiry”, says Benyus.
There are a few hundred examples of biomimicry, each with its own fascinating story. Today we could talk about how researchers are using the chemical compounds found in nature to design sustainable plastics, or how scientists in Australia are looking at native forests to design more efficient and safer factories. We could even talk about how everyone’s favorite insect, the spider, creates webs that have helped scientists create windows that are bird collision-free. Yet, we have some even cooler examples prepared for you.
Learning from termites to create sustainable buildings
If you have ever come in contact with termites, it probably was not the best experience. Termites are highly destructive, taking down sheds, garages, and even homes. Yet, the creepy little critters are master builders. You have probably come across the massive termite mounds standing meters tall. Besides building big, there is something special about these mounds.
Biomimicry does not always look at just the anatomical or evolutionary niche of a species. In fact, we often take a hard look at the support systems that animals create. In the case of termite, the little critters have figured out how to create the most elaborate ventilation systems for cooling on the planet. By using a very complex network of air pockets in their mound homes, termites are able to create a natural ventilation system using convention.
Though mounds can be found in some of the hottest places in the world, these homes are able to stay exceptionally cool inside. The engineering firm Arup took notice of the natural innovation and built an entire shopping center in Zimbabwe based on this natural convection system. It even uses less energy than a traditional facility.
Learning from Dolphins to save lives
We are well aware of the destructive power of tsunami waves and unfortunately have seen them in action recently. One of the most important tools we have for saving lives is pressure sensors that can be located underneath passing waves as deep as 6000 meters. In fact, these same sensors have taken their inspiration from dolphins. Dolphins have this amazing ability to communicate with each other very effectively while deep underwater.
The company EvoLogic took this inspiration and developed its Sweep Spread Carrier. This innovative technology can be used to detect underwater earthquakes and provide an assist for underwater tsunami warning systems.
The team describes their technology in detail stating, “To mimic dolphin sound pattern, modems built on S2C technology continuously spread the signal energy over a wide range of frequencies and adapt the signal structure so that the multipath components do not interfere with each other. At the receiver end, advanced signal processing collects the energy and converts the received signals into narrowband signals.”
“This results in achieving significant depression of multipath disturbances and substantial system gain, enabling successful decoding of signals also in crucial environments even when they are heavily masked by noise." Biomimicry can even be used to save lives.
Learning from cephalopods to create the ultimate camouflage
Do you remember active camouflage from Halo? Basically, it allowed you to have Master Chief blend in with his surroundings and sneak up on your friends to get the oh-so-satisfying kill. Well, we are pretty close to this technology. Even more so, the technology was based on cephalopods, or squid and octopuses. As you are probably well, aware cephalopods are capable of changing their skin color instinctively. This allows them to hide from predators while bioluminescence allows them to communicate with or attract a mate. These are all thanks to their amazing and specialized skin cells.
Researchers at the University of Houston have developed a similar device that can sense the light and its surroundings and within seconds blend into its surroundings, just like your boy Master Chief in Halo. Of course, this technology has direct applications to the military and could perhaps make its way into consumer technology. Or maybe these super camouflage predator-like super soldiers are already out there, waiting just around the corner. You never know.
Biomimicry is everywhere
Biomimicry is much more prevalent than you think, changing the way we travel to space and how you get home. Biomimicry is shaping the way we produce sustainable energy and how we build buildings.
In what ways has biomimicry shaped your life? Do you have any favorite nature-inspired design examples?
Norman Wagner from the University of Delaware tells Interesting Engineering about the challenges of making extraterrestrial cement for off-space infrastructure.