Mother Nature is the world’s greatest designer. What modern technology has been inspired by the natural world?
What is biomimetics?
Biomimetics or biomimicry, is the combination of engineering and science to construct artificial applications or technologies . These mimic substances, actions or processes found in nature.
This fascinating field of study is all around us. Many modern technologies were inspired by natural processes through biomimetic design.
We recently reported the developments being made in artificial skin substances. These are planned for use as responsive interfaces in consumer electronics.
Spider inspired depth sensors
As reported by Engadget, a team of scientists at Harvard have been inspired by jumping spiders. Depth sensors map out details of an object, and then compute this data to perform an action. This technology is used in smart phones in functions such as facial recognition.
Studying the layers of the eyes of jumping spiders has enabled the team to develop a new type of lens called a metalens. This imitates the same process. The lens produces simultaneous images with different levels of blurring in order to create a highly performing depth sensor which requires less battery power and uses less memory.
Power grids – or beehives?
Regen Energy looked at the way bees swarm around a hive, and how their instinct directs each bee to carry out their function. This logic was applied to the Regen Energy grids.
Replacing central systems with local controllers with remote wireless communication enabled the grid to redirect power more efficiently, with the functionality to direct power according to need. This replicates the hive mentality where each bee knows what it needs to do in accordance with its location in the hive, and what the other bees are doing.
How a dog helped to develop Velcro
Another example of an innovation inspired by nature is Velcro. Now a common material in the clothing industry, Velcro was inspired by burdock burrs. This was developed by an engineer in the 1940’s, who recognised how effective the burrs were at sticking to his dogs coat.
Microscopic images helped to visualise how the spurs cling on with hooks, and this was then turned into an artificial material.
Robotic arms; inspired by elephants
As explained by Aranca, robotic arms were revolutionised when they become remodelled on the functionality of an elephants trunk. Using a series of discs and compressed air enabled robotic arms to function in a far more dexterous way.
This was an innovation on the original robotics, which were designed to mimic a human arm. These had restricted movement and were bulkier and less agile.
Synthetic shark skin
Sharks are a formidable apex predator, and nature has evolved the creature into a highly efficient organism. German researchers looked at the construct of shark skin to develop an artificial replica.
The skin is extremely tough, made from a series of minute teeth called dentins. These ensure smooth movement through water and repel other organisms or plant materials. This avoids barnacles and other creatures fastening themselves to the skin.
This artificial material has been further developed by the US Navy to help save on their $50m annual cost of anti-fouling vessels.
As new technologies are developed and innovation evolves, it is very likely that researchers will be able to learn more by analysing the natural world.
With aquatic drones designed to imitate diving birds and 3D camouflage skin inspired by octupuses, take a closer look at your next new gadget. You might just have seen it somewhere before!