Biomimicry – redefining innovation

2012-07-03 10:43

What has the fins of a whale, the skin of a lizard and the eyes of a moth? The future of engineering…

Tasked with designing products and cities that are able to adapt to the challenges of resource depletion and energy constraints engineers, architects, scientists, urban planners and inventors are being inspired by nature for solutions.

Biomimicry unpacks the genius of nature in order to inspire new thought and the results are quite extraordinary. Key to the success of nature’s most responsive ecosystems is what is termed a “short feedback loop”. This essentially means there is an ability for the ecosystem to respond quickly to changing conditions.

This short feedback loop is a key factor to resilience within the system. Anyone who has ever worked in a large corporation will understand how tricky it is to effect even the smallest change due to the hierarchical and static structures that do nothing to enhance innovation. Whereas in smaller organisations, or those with less hierarchical structures, the ability to respond to a threat or new idea can be far quicker and therefore more robust in adapting to change.

As the stressed environments of the human built world are buckling and resources like water and oil are becoming more depleted – the principals of biomimicry can be a vital guide toward creating future systems that are more resilient, adaptable and functional.

And without sounding like a TV advertorial – there is more - in that it can encourage solutions that can in actual fact nurture the overall ecosystem, just like nature does.

Some of the products and services that have been transformed as a result of applying principals of biomimicry include a carpet company that designs flooring solutions that mimic a dappled forest floor. If a section of the carpet becomes damaged or needs replacing – then all that needs to be done is replace that section rather than resurface an entire floor. This reduces maintenance costs, waste and the need for toxic adhesives.

A glass manufacturer uses spider web designs to manufacture windows that birds will not fly into.

The aerodynamics of the box fish has inspired the design of a highly energy efficient vehicle.

And in the energy stakes, a manufacturer of wind turbine blades has based its design on the propulsion mechanism of a Southern Right whale’s dorsal fins.

The shock absorption capabilities of a wood pecker, has led to the creation of stronger and more resilient aeroplane ‘black box’ recorders.

The principles of biomimicry can also be utilised in developing new strategies for more resilient and effective businesses and more effective communication campaigns.

When tasked with creating a campaign aimed at the upper LSM groups to encourage them to be more energy efficient and use less electricity; the creatives asked nature what were the most effective communicators within small clusters and what had the ability to rapidly send out messages to a larger group based on positive response mechanisms.

Two most unlikely organisms acted as a catalyst for the solution to the campaign objectives: stromatolites and ants.

Nature recycles, re-uses and re-constitutes all its waste and is highly energy efficient. As we move towards more sustainable practises the lessons that can be learned from the natural kingdoms are tremendously important to this transformation.

The taxonomy of biomimicry offers fresh insight into solving human conundrums by interrogating the function, form and life-friendly chemistry of an object and is sure to pioneer new solutions for a resilient future.

www.biomimicrysa.co.za / www.biomimicry.net

Watch this – the remarkable adaptation of an octopus to its environment: http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/david_gallo_shows_underwater_astonishments.html

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