Listening to Nature

Innovation Inspired By Nature. A Powerful Stage.

nature8Though technology and nature could be perceived as two opposing forces, you might be surprised to find out how much scientists learn from the animal kingdom. It’s nothing new for designers and inventors to look to nature for creative solutions and ideas. What’s changed is that this science and design practice is now recognized as a field in its own right – Biomimicry – and it’s gaining momentum. A discipline that studies nature’s best ideas and then imitates these designs and processes to solve human problems. It revolves around one basic principle: to emulate, rather than reinvent, systems that nature has spent around four billion years perfecting. “Biomimicry is basically taking a design challenge and then finding an ecosystem that’s already solved that challenge, and literally trying to emulate what you learn,” said Janine Benyus, the American scientist who coined the phrase biomimicry around a decade ago.

nature2If you’ve ever tried to pick a mussel off a rock you’ve likely noticed that they sure know how to stick. Columbia Forest Products looked at the natural adhesive abilities of the blue mussel and came up with a way to use soy-based formaldehyde-free technology in the construction of hardwood plywood products.

While this relatively new field may seem very scientific, it is of great use and importance to today’s designers. Both in solving problems as well as providing an endless wealth of creative visual inspiration. Biomimicry operates on the principle that in its 3.8 billion year history, nature has already found solutions to many of the problems we are trying to solve.

Form fits Function

Nature optimizes rather than maximizes. One of nature’s fundamental design principles is optimizing shape or form to best suit or fit the function. The reason is efficiency; shape is less expensive than material.

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English mobile operator Orange, known for introducing new eco-friendly devices every year during the Glastonbury Festival, has recently presented their vision for the tent of the future. The tent could be purchased for style alone, but it has many benefits. Made from photovoltaic fabric capable of storing solar energy, charges mobile devices and is equipped with LCD-screen. You can also activate it via sms or RFID-technology, and it will light up with a soft yellow light.

Asking the Planet- Evolution meets Creation.

Biomimetics brings in a whole different set of tools and ideas you wouldn’t otherwise have, looking at nature in new ways, as model, measure and mentor to fully appreciate and understand how it can be used to help solve problems. The Biomimicry Institute developed a process created especially for designers. Their ‘Design Spiral’ is a guide which helps ‘biologize a challenge, query the natural world for inspiration, then evaluate to ensure that the final design mimics nature at all levels—form, process, and ecosystem.’

Speedos FastSkin Racer pushes buttons.

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The shark, a creature that is fast in water but not naturally hydrodynamic, was used as a model for LZR Racer. A shark’s speed is attributed to V-shaped ridges on its skin-dermal denticles.  Dentricles decrease drag and turbulence around the shark’s body allowing the surrounding water to pass over the shark more effectively. Due to the drag effect that occurs when an object travels through water, Fastskin fabric was constructed with built in ridges emulating sharkskin.

Nissan Eporo car aids in avoiding collision by mimicking schools of fish.

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What do a bumblebee and a school of fish have in common? Both demonstrate extraordinary anti-collision abilities, navigating instinctively and intelligently through challenging terrain by detecting and avoiding obstacles.

Coloration by Light

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Many colors in nature result from light reflecting off structures, not the use of pigments.The metallic sheen and dazzling colors of tropical birds and beetles derive from optical features: neatly spaced microstructures that reflect specific wavelengths of light. Such structural color, fade-proof and more brilliant than pigment, is of great interest to people who manufacture paint, cosmetics, and those little holograms on credit cards.

Fluorescent proteins discovered in Glow fish

nature3Inspiring Electroluminescent Packaging:Ballantine’s new electroluminescent label for blended scotch whisky; TyKu’s sake bottle with LED light source; J&B’s “Mix Light” bottle.

Design is intuitive, working on the non-verbal levels of our experience, sometimes triggering our most subversive emotional states; this makes it difficult to evaluate empirically. Lacking an analytical vernacular, design is labeled subjective, when it is actually the agent of universal truth through form.

Form has meaning; it can touch us at such a primal level that our mind is left scrambling to rationalize our emotional reactions. Bio-inspired designs/forms are elegant, functional, and not surprisingly, sustainable as well. Benyus says in her book: “The core idea is that nature, imaginative by necessity, has already solved many of the problems we are grappling with. Animals, plants, and microbes are the consummate engineers. They have found what works, what is appropriate, and most important, what lasts here on Earth.”

It seems that the more we learn from nature’s mentors, the more we’ll want to protect them.

Some great links to leave you with: Treehugger National Geographic


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