People have been turning to nature for inspiration to help them solve problems for millions of years. From buildings and bridges to materials and medicine – examining the design of nature has aided in the development of almost every aspect of our lives, and most of us – often without realizing – benefit from these inspired revelations several times a day. This design concept is most commonly known as biomimicry. Designers, scientist, and engineers continue to study the complex structures found in nature to create greener and more efficient products and process for our homes and lives. In 2005 leading biomimicry expert Janine Benyus founded the Biomimicry Institute to give people the resources they needed to further their studies and understanding. Read on to learn more about how nature has inspired some truly innovative new products.
Velcro — Inspired by Burrs
Velcro – which is probably the most famous example of biomimicry – was invented in 1941 by Swiss engineer George de Mestral. Mestral first got the idea for this new material from the burrs that were often stuck to his dog’s hair. When he placed the burrs under a microscope he noticed tiny hooks at the end of each spine. These miniature hooks easily caught on to anything shaped like a loop like animal fur, clothing, or hair.
Improved Wind Turbines — Inspired by Fins, Tails and Flippers
By mimicking the characteristics of whales fins, tails and flippers, engineers have been able to design more efficient wind turbines. Toronto-based company Whalepower has come up with a revolutionary blade design that has been shown to increase annual electrical production by 20% while greatly reducing noise. This design can also be used on fans, pumps, and compressors and can offer improvements in the conservation and collection of renewable energy.
Tidal Power System — Inspired by Swimming Fish
This tidal power system mimics the uniform swimming patterns of fish like tuna, mackerel and sharks. Unlike these fish, the bioStream does not move freely through the water but instead it’s anchored to the ocean floor. These lightweight power plants rotate with the tides to generate electricity from the moving water. Just like the animals living in the ocean deep, these devices move with the the ebb and flow of the ocean and their streamlined shape protects them when extreme conditions prevail.
Efficient Color Electronic Screens — Inspired by the Wing of a Butterfly
A butterfly’s wings are one of nature’s most remarkable materials. These tiny but complex structures reflect light in such a way that specific wavelengths interfere with each other to create intensely vivid colors one could only find in nature. By carefully studying this process, engineers at Qualcomm have been able to mimic this effect, allowing them to develop a system that produces colored electronic screens that are extremely efficient and can be viewed under any light conditions.
Solar Powered Spy Plane — Inspired by Bats
This robotic spy plane, known at the COM-BAT, was conceived by the US Military to gather real-time data for soldiers in the Army. The structure of this mini air-craft mimics the shape and function of a bat in flight, and in 2008 the University of Michigan College of Engineering was grated a five year $10-million dollar grant to in order to make this concept a reality. The device is powered by the sun, the wind, and vibrations, and it features “quantum dot solar cells” that are twice as effective as current photovoltaics.
Green Building — Inspired by Termite Mounds
Eastgate Centre in Harare, Zimbabwe is one of the largest and most elaborate examples of biomimicry around. This building, designed by architect Mick Pearce in conjunction with engineers at Arup Associates, does not require conventional heating or air-conditioning. The building’s design utilizes principles found in African termite mounds to regulate its interior temperature while dramatically reducing energy consumption.
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