How nature inspires design & engineering efficiency
In the coming examples, you will see that the creators have been inspired by the technical properties of nature to solve a problem, most of them not even referring to its origin for marketing it.
As discussed earlier, inspiration can come in different forms
– The artistic inspiration, explored in the previous chapter.
– The engineering inspiration.
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To survive, living creatures have to match and overcome the problem that their environment is throwing at them; it can be lack of water, temperature, camouflage, hunting specifically skilled prey, attracting other species for specific help.
This means that all living creatures living on this planet have specific skills in something. Skills that have been evolved through time to reach efficiency and survival.
By studying those creatures and the solutions they came up with and polished over millions of years of trials, errors, and modifications, we can translate/reproduce those skills to help humanity and its technology be more efficient.
Here are some examples of how nature has inspired engineers to solve technical problems efficiently.
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One of the fastest trains globally, the Japanese Shinkansen, had to face many problems while circulating at high speeds above 300Km/h and continuously entering and exiting tunnels, creating sonic booms that could be heard up to 400 meters around. In the second version, the engineers took inspiration from the Kingfisher bird to design the bullet head of the train. The kingfisher can dive at high speed from air to water ( 800 times denser) without creating a single splash or riddle on the water surface that would make them lose sight of the prey they are chasing.
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After studying and analyzing how its beak and head were conceived, the engineers could manufacture a nearly 20% energy saving and almost 30% quieter train than the first generation.
In Zimbabwe, Africa, the temperature climbs very high. Thus in public building cooling and ventilation becomes compulsory.
While conceiving an entire shopping center, the engineering team Arup faced problems reaching good comfort standards and low energy consumption. They sought the termite’s mound for this.
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Termites are considered a nuisance/annoyance, but most people ignore their skills for creating some of the most elaborate ventilation systems for cooling on the entire planet. The termite’s mounds can remain exceptionally cool inside even in the hottest location; using an intricate network of air pockets and tunnels; the mounds create a very efficient conventional ventilation system. Thanks to this knowledge, Arup engineering manufactured a system that uses more than 10% less energy than any traditional air-conditioned facility.
Fast like a shark
Sharks are known to be the most efficient hunters of the seas. One of their assets is their skin.
It is covered with “dermal denticles,” which are tiny flexible teeth. They create low-pressure zones and millions of micro vertexes around the animal, literally pulling it forward; this also helps reducing drag, making the shark a very efficient fast swimmer.
Speedo introduced bio-mimicking sharkskin into swimsuits in the 2008 Olympics, resulting in over 98% of medals won thanks to this biomimetic technology which was banned from competitions after this incident.
Velcro is one of the most interesting successful /extensive applications of nature-inspired human creation.
It started in the ’40s when George De Mestral saw cockle-burs attached to his dog’s fur while trekking…
A few months later, the hook and loops system was recreated in a weaving plant and got VELCRO ( VELours and CROchet (French for velvet and hooks).
These exciting studies of the reasons and technology making any living creature successfully living in a specific environment and condition can be harvested for humanity.
These “nature-inspired” technologies have made us faster, cooler, more efficient. But it doesn’t mean that they are ecological.
Being inspired by nature doesn’t make you sustainable every time. As an example, the speedo swimsuit’s manufacturing process uses a lot of resources. It creates a large amount of waste, making it a non-sustainable product even if directly inspired by sharkskin.
We will look into how biomimicry can help us bridge this gap and make the industry more sustainable in the next chapter of Biomimicry and Design.