Biomimicry is the replication and application of nature for our own benefit. Since nature operates under the same laws that govern our own lives, it makes sense to learn from these tried and tested design principles. Inspiration from nature has given us some of the most fundamental design principles that we take for granted.
Velcro was “invented” by Swiss engineer George de Mestral in 1941, after he removed seeds from his dog’s fur. The shape of an aeroplane’s wings was inspired by bird wings which provide lift and stability at low speed. In 1934, Percy Shaw invented the “cats eye” which demarcate a road at night. The idea came to Shaw when he was driving at night and passed a cat that was looking at him from the edge of the road.
A beetle from the Namib Desert collects water out of the air. As the beetle stands in the morning fog with it is head down and body held upright, fog condenses on the beetle’s body, and water runs down towards its head. The secret to this ability is in the texture of the beetle’s exoskeleton. In areas where rain is a rare event, this type of adaptation is vital to the beetle’s survival. Imagine having a 2m high model of a beetle on the roof of your house, where it slowly collects water day and night.
A southern right whale weighing up to 70 tons moves through the sea almost effortlessly. The large and irregular bumps on the whale’s flippers give the flippers a 8% improvement in lift and a 32% improvement in reducing drag. By copying the design of a whale’s flipper, wind turbine efficiency can be increased.
A low resistance surface has been developed by mimicking the configuration and texture of shark skin. Dentricles on the sharks skin, not only reduce drag as the shark moves through water, but also prevent micro-organisms from hitching a lift. NASA scientists copied this design and together with 3M, incorporated this technology into the hulls of ocean going racing yachts. This design is also being used in areas to resist the build up of micro-organisms such as in hospitals and restaurants.
Other examples of biomimicry include:
- Volvo developed a vehicle collision avoidance system based upon locust behaviour.
- A self cleaning exterior paint that has the same surface topography of lotus leaves.
- Leak blocking technology based upon the human bodies ability to stop bleeding.
- Glass windows that prevent bird death collisions by incorporating the UV properties of the web of the orb-weaver spider.
- An electronic video screen that has been modelled upon the structure of butterfly wings to be viewable under any light condition.
The solution to many of our challenges can be found within the natural environment. We just have to learn to look in the right places.