Biomimicry: 9 Ways Engineers Have Been ‘Inspired’ by Nature

Engineers can and have learned a lot from nature. Scientists and engineers alike are on the hunt to tackle some of the issues the currently plague 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 the process of taking the innovations that exist in nature 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 the 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 that you see on a daily basis, 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.

Kingfisher & The Shinkansen Train

Biomimicry: 9 Ways Engineers Have Been 'Inspired' by Nature
Source: pixabay

First on the list the Kingfisher and the story of the Shinkansen. As you are probably are well, aware, Japan produces some of the most efficient and fast trains of the world, with speeds in the excess of 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 Ways Engineers Have Been 'Inspired' by Nature
Source: pixabay

With the help of a little biomimicry, engineers turned to an unlikely source, the Kingfisher. With their elongated beak, Kingfisher birds are able to travel between the air and water with very 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 benefits of having a train that uses 15% less electricity, and that is 10% faster than the original.

Geckos & Super-Climbing

Biomimicry: 9 Ways Engineers Have Been 'Inspired' by Nature
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 a host of 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 Ways Engineers Have Been 'Inspired' by Nature
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 Ways Engineers Have Been 'Inspired' by Nature
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 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 every year 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 a bird-safe glass. In nature, birds can see identify these reflective strands and avoid them.

Burrs and Velcro

Biomimicry: 9 Ways Engineers Have Been 'Inspired' by Nature
Source: pixabay

After seeing the way that 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 ended up creating velcro, a fastening system that is used today for a long list of 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 is not able to wet the surface of the flower because of the nanostructures of the plant, 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 a host of tools, vehicles, and products to induce their own 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, the MIT created a structure that could be used to build cooling devices and even cleaning up toxic spills.

Sharks & Aquatic Vehicles

After NASA examined the microscopic pattern of shark skin, they created their own laboratory shark skin or riblets film to use on a host of products. Why? Sharks are some of nature’s most efficient swimmers.

Biomimicry: 9 Ways Engineers Have Been 'Inspired' by Nature
Source: Oceanographic

The small little grooves or dentricles in sharkskin significantly reduces the drag of a vessel when its attached to the surface. This sharkskin film is used on a host of everyday objects like coatings for ship’s hulls, submarines, aircraft, and even swimwear for humans.

Butterflies & Solar Power

Biomimicry: 9 Ways Engineers Have Been 'Inspired' by Nature
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.

Biomimicry: 9 Ways Engineers Have Been 'Inspired' by Nature
Source: Science Advances

What other inventions do you know where inspired by nature?

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Source: Interesting Engineering