The formations and structures that exist in nature have always inspired human beings. In more recent years, this inspiration has been paired with engineering to create biomimicry: the process of taking these natural elements and applying them to the design and production of our systems, materials and structures. Biomimicry is used as an engineering tool in every sector and is included in all kinds of technology. We’ve put together a list of five examples that we think are especially innovative.
Kingfishers to the Shinkansen Train
Japan is well-known for creating some of the fastest trains on the planet. However, previous designs created huge amounts of noise when they came through tunnels which was irritating Japanese residents. Enter the kingfisher: when it hunts, the elongated shape of its beak allows it to make seamless entries from the air (which is a low-resistance environment) into water (a high-resistance environment). By shaping the front of the train like the beak of the kingfisher, the Shinkansen train became able to move seamlessly from the open air (low-resistance) and through the tunnel (high-resistance). Therefore, its kingfisher-inspired design has dramatically reduced the noise it produces.
Burrs to Velcro
Velcro was invented when George de Mestral became inspired whilst walking his dog. He began to wonder why the spiky seeds on many common plants (called burrs) were so effective at clinging to his dog’s fur. Being an engineer and entrepreneur, he conducted a microscopic investigation and discovered that there were multiple tiny hooks at the end of the burr. These tiny hooks allow the burr to attach to passing animals and increase its seed dispersal. On this discovery, de Mestral attempted to transfer this natural design over to a manufactured material. He named the new material Velcro, which is a household name across the globe.
Geckos to Climbing Gear
Geckos are excellent climbers. Their skin features grooves made from microscopic hairs which create micro-electrostatic contact between their feet and the surface, enabling them to adhere to any surface with ease. This natural design has been applied to many different forms of adhesive which have been used to revolutionise climbing gear. The inspiration taken from geckoes’ skin has been so well incorporated into the design of synthetic materials that humans are now able to climb up glass.
Whales to Wind Turbines
Whales are some of the biggest creatures on the planet, but they are also some of the best swimmers, jumpers and divers in the ocean. This is down to their aerodynamic shape, and for some, to their serrated fins. The bumpy edge of a serrated fin distributes pressure from the water across the serrated edge which enables them to move through the water more easily. This discovery has caused many scientists and developers to transfer the serrated design over to the blades of wind turbines. This has resulted in serrated blades which make the turbine quieter and more efficient than those with smooth blades.
Sharks to Germ Repellent Materials
Unlike other sea creatures, sharks don’t accumulate algae or barnacles on their skin. Microscopic investigation by marine biologists discovered that this is due to the tight-overlap of their scale pattern (referred to as “dermal denticles”) which prevents bacterial growth. This natural innovation is set to revolutionise medical materials. The dermal denticle design has been applied to the materials which cover medical instruments used for surgery, as well as those used for surgical mesh and catheters. This will greatly reduce the chances of infection and increase the success of post-medical recovery.
As our understanding of the natural world increases, and our ability to innovate technology progresses, there are limitless ways that biomimicry will continue to develop the way we live. These five examples of biomimicry prove that some of technology’s most innovative solutions may already exist in nature and are simply waiting to be discovered.
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