The term biomimicry first appeared in 1962, derived from the Greek roots of bios, meaning life. And mimikos, meaning to imitate or reproduce. Biomimicry has brought inspiration from nature to the forefront of product, process and ecosystem design.
In its application biomimicry is the result of discoveries in the field of natural science, informing practical ways in which engineering and business problems can be solved. How it does this can be broken down into:
1) Material selection
2) Object mechanics
3) Structural and group dynamics
Design scientists have not only been fine-tuning products, but have also even streamlined workplace habits and operations based on observations from nature. These observations have efficiently and economically overcome many hurdles. Here we look at specific examples of products whose designs have been inspired by nature.
Burr hooks replicated in velcro (P2)
Velcro is one of the most well-known inventions which has its roots in nature. Prior to its invention, sticking two materials together, temporarily, multiple times, was an unresolved design challenge. Swiss engineer George de Mestral, inspired by burrs, which hook onto animal’s fur in order to pollinate, invented Velcro. Velcro is now used from shoes to various cloths and canvases to allow for temporary yet secure attachments. (3)
The nose of a bullet train is designed of a kingfisher’s beak (P3)
The shinkansen, commonly referred to as the ‘bullet train’, is yet another example of biomimicry in action. The distinct nose shape of the bullet train was designed off a kingfisher’s beak. Eiji Nakatsu, an engineer working for the Japan Railway Company, teamed up with a group of birdwatchers to design these high speed trains. On observing the kingfisher’s ability to move from a medium with low drag (air) to a medium with high drag (water) with little to no splash, Eiji used the shape of its beak as an inspiration for the nose of the bullet train. This design helped the bullet train overcome high pressure differences when entering tunnels.(4)
Fabric with little teeth (P4)
Linea Aqua, a collaboration between MAS and Speedo, created a highly successful line of swimwear known as ‘fastskin’.(5) Which aided in the record breaking number of wins set by Michael Phelps in 2008. The design imitates a shark’s skin which has ‘dermal denticles’ (little teeth) that overlap each other along its length. These dermal denticles prevent the formation of eddies, swirls of water, against the surface of the shark. This allows water to pass along the shark, or the swimsuit, much faster. (6)
New research, however, indicates that the design is not as effective on humans due to the limited flexibility of our skin. On a shark these dermal denticles move with the membrane of its skin to create low pressure zones that thrust the shark forward faster. (7)
Peacock feathers have been mimicked for its refraction technique to help electronic displays save energy (8) (P5)
In addition to material selection and product design, biomimicry has also influenced the way businesses operate in a variety of industries. Observations of foraging ants alone have helped businesses in the logistics, telecommunications and retail sectors improve their efficiencies. However biomimicry cannot only be used by businesses to increase operational efficiencies but also to create more eco friendly spaces.