Throughout human history scientists, designers and engineers have always looked to nature to provide them with inspiration. By closely observing Mother Nature’s perfect systems, we can find solutions to highly complex industrial, architectural and technological design problems.
Examples of biomimicry can be found throughout the centuries, from the use of silk to create fabric which we learned from the silkworm to the pigeons that inspired the Wright brothers to create the first airplane. A more recent example is the remarkable Green Turtle project that is using ocean biomimicry to design robots to clean garbage from the oceans. The Green Turtle concept was so successful it won the Innovate for Sustainability competition run by design experts 3DS.
Drawing inspiration from nature allows us to create unique products and machinery that can help us to transform our world and improve our way of life. Innovators are now focused on using biomimicry to solve some of the most pressing issues of our era.
Biomimicry, what is it exactly?
Biomimicry can be said to be the combination of the elegance and efficiency of the natural world with powerful new design technologies to produce highly effective products, structures, and systems, according to EHL.
The origins of the term biomimicry began with Otto Schmidt, an American inventor and academic who described ‘biomimetics’ as the transfer of biological concepts to technological ideas. Biomimicry was in use in scientific circles in the early 1980s and was further popularized by author Janine Benyus in the 1997 book “Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature”.
In one sense, biomimicry can be said to be the driver behind the oldest forms of human design and engineering, for example, early settlements that were carved from rock faces to mimic caves or the work of Leonardo Da Vinci, who was heavily inspired by birds, plants, and the natural world.
When describing biomimicry, one of the most common modern examples is the development of Velcro. Velcro was developed by Swiss engineer George de Mestral in the mid-1950s. de Mestral noticed that burrs had stuck to his clothing after a walk in the woods. The hooks used by the burrs to attach themselves to passing objects formed the basis of the hook and loop system used in Velcro.
Harnessing Nature’s Power with Biomimicry
In the modern era, creators are still looking to the wonders of nature to provide them with inspiration. In fact, it may be the case that nature itself provides us with the solutions we require to reduce global warming and create more sustainable products and methods of production.
In nature, nothing is ever wasted. The output from natural systems is used to benefit the surrounding ecosystem. Engineers and designers are now concentrating their efforts on mimicking natural systems to come up with ways to reduce manufacturing waste, enhance product longevity, and make our cities more sustainable.
Some examples of the creative ways in which biomimicry is now being used include:
- Sustainable building insulation made from mycelium; a substance found in mushrooms
- Recyclable, PFC-free waterproof textiles that are based on natural liquid-repellent nanostructures
- Data from the movement patterns of ants is being used to design better traffic flows on highways
- Chemical cleaning products that emulate the workings of the human liver and can remove stains and dirt without the need for toxic substances
- Termite mounds have provided the inspiration for more energy-efficient buildings (source)
- Plants and sea creatures are being used as the basis for new architectural structures
- The regenerative abilities of salamanders are being studied to ascertain the potential for medical use
How Biomimicry is Helping Us to Build the Future
As we strive to reduce carbon emissions and reach net zero, natural systems can provide us with the answers that we seek. Biomimicry techniques are employed by engineers and designers across the globe to develop astounding solutions to complex environmental and sustainability issues.
Combining biomimicry with cutting-edge 3D design software results in an incredibly powerful tool that engineers can use to develop remarkable new technologies. Companies can reduce their environmental impact by adopting an approach that incorporates biomimicry with advances in digitization such as 3D printing and Cloud computing. Nature continues to provide us with inspiration as new technology provides us with the tools to foster innovation.