Biomimicry: 9 Engineering Innovations Inspired by Nature's Design

Believe it or not, engineers turn to nature to tackle some of the world’s biggest challenges. Biomimicry is the future.
Donovan Alexander

Engineers can and have learned a lot from nature. Scientists and engineers are on the hunt to tackle issues plaguing the world. It seems the process of Biomimicry could have a lot of those answers.

Understanding Biomimicry

What is Biomimicry, you ask? Biomimicry is an approach to innovation that seeks sustainable solutions to human challenges by emulating nature's time-tested patterns and strategies. In short, biomimicry is taking natural innovations and applying them to technology.

 As stated by the Biomimicry Institute, "The core idea is that nature has already solved many of the problems we are grappling with. Animals, plants, and microbes are consummate engineers. After billions of years of research and development, failures are fossils, and what surrounds us is the secret to survival."

Believe it or not, some of the tools, vehicles, and products you see daily or use have been inspired by animals and nature, innovations that have changed the world for the better and have made your life a little bit easier.

Interested in what these products are? Today is your lucky day. Here are nine innovations inspired by nature.

Kingfisher & The Shinkansen Train

Biomimicry: 9 Engineering Innovations Inspired by Nature's Design
Source: pixabay

First on the list is the Kingfisher and the story of the Shinkansen. As you are probably well aware, Japan produces some of the world's most efficient and fast trains, with speeds over 300km/h.

However, when traveling at these speeds after emerging from a tunnel, the trains would produce a sonic boom, a huge source of noise pollution that plagued local Japanese residents. So, what did engineers do?

Biomimicry: 9 Engineering Innovations Inspired by Nature's Design
Source: pixabay

With the help of a little biomimicry, engineers turned to an unlikely source, the Kingfisher. With their elongated beak, Kingfisher birds can travel between the air and water with a little splash while hunting for prey.

Engineers redesigned the train in the image of the bird, giving the train a long beak-like shape at the front of the train. With this simple upgrade, the engineers were able to reduce the noise of the train with the added benefit of having a train that uses 15% less electricity and is 10% faster than the original.

Geckos & Super-Climbing 

Biomimicry: 9 Engineering Innovations Inspired by Nature's Design
Source: pixabay

The biomechanics of the gecko's toes make it an excellent climber. Scientists and researchers have been using the gecko’s toes to create various climbing materials for humans. The toes of the gecko have inspired adhesive that is strong enough to allow a human to climb up a glass wall.

Whales & Wind Turbines

Biomimicry: 9 Engineering Innovations Inspired by Nature's Design
Source: Christopher M. Keane/Earth Magazine

Whales are some of nature’s largest creatures, yet they are widely aerodynamic, being some the best swimmers, divers and jumpers in the ocean. What contributes to this? Like an airplane, the whale’s fins are its wings, unique because of the bump protrusions on the fins, called tubercles.

Biomimicry: 9 Engineering Innovations Inspired by Nature's Design
Source: Christopher M. Keane/Earth Magazine

The efficiency at which a whale can swim has inspired serrated-edge wind turbines, turbines that themselves are far quieter and more efficient than the smooth blades that are more commonly known.

Spiders & Protective Glass

You are probably already well aware that spider silk is one of the strongest biological substances in the world. However, there is something even more special about the strands of spider silk.

Each year 100 million birds die after crashing into glass windows, doors, etc. Why? For Birds, it's almost impossible to identify the transparent surface of the glass.

Turning to nature, engineers took inspiration from the UV-reflective strands of spider webs and created bird-safe glass. In nature, birds can see identify these reflective strands and avoid them.

Burrs and Velcro

Biomimicry: 9 Engineering Innovations Inspired by Nature's Design
Source: pixabay

After seeing how pesky burrs would stick to his dog’s hair, George De Mestral had an idea that would impact the world. Mestral spent time analyzing the burrs, studying them under a microscope, and noticing the small tiny hooks at the end of the burr.

Burrs themselves stick to just about anything, including fabric. Eager to replicate burrs' “catchiness,” Mestral created Velcro, a fastening system used today for many daily applications.

Lotus & Oil Repellents 

The beautiful lotus flower has some impressive tricks up its sleeve. Known as superhydrophobicity, the lotus effect is an interesting natural phenomenon.

Water cannot wet the flower's surface because of the plant's nanostructures; micro-protrusions coated in waxy hydrophobic materials repel the water.

Engineers have copied this process to create a water-repelling, fat-repelling, and oil-repellent sealant that can be sprayed on various tools, vehicles, and products to induce their superhydrophobicity.

Namibian Beetles & Water Collection

You probably know the African Namib Desert Beetle for the way it rolls and collects poop.

However, did you know it is a master at collecting water? MIT scientists and engineers noticed this and created something special.  

The beetle can collect water by condensing fog into water droplets in the bumps on its shell, then directing the water to its head so it can drink.

Using the beetle’s structure as inspiration, MIT created a structure that could be used to build cooling devices and even clean up toxic spills.

Sharks & Aquatic Vehicles 

After NASA examined the microscopic pattern of shark skin, they created their own laboratory shark skin or riblet film for various denticle products. Why? Sharks are some of nature's most efficient swimmers.

Biomimicry: 9 Engineering Innovations Inspired by Nature's Design
Source: Oceanographic

The small little grooves or denticles in sharkskin significantly reduce the drag of a vessel when it is attached to the surface. This sharkskin film is used on various everyday objects like coatings for ship hulls, submarines, aircraft, and even swimwear for humans.

Butterflies & Solar Power

Biomimicry: 9 Engineering Innovations Inspired by Nature's Design
Source: Science Advances

The Butterfly wings are elegant feats of nature but can also have some impressive solar properties. The rose butterfly has tiny cells on its intricate and delicate wings that can collect light at any angle.

The black wings of the rose butterfly have inspired a new type of solar cell that is two times more efficient at harvesting light.