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Nature constantly evolves, survives and thrives. It reinvents itself, adapting and beginning anew with irrepressible optimism making it the best source of answers to the challenges we face as humans. Biomimicry is the design of finding solutions from nature. The term biomimcry or biomimetics come from the Greek words bios meaning life and mimesis meaning to imitate. It is basically a methodology in which ecological and biological principles are used for solving our issues.
Initially the term Biomimetics (now known as Biomimcry) was coined by Otto Schmitt, an American inventor and academic defining it as “transfer of ideas from biology to technology“. Since many scientists started using this word for different but similar concepts, the word was lost. Biomimicry first appeared in scientific literature in the year 1997 by Janine M. Banyus in her book Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature and has been used more often from that time.
Ancient hunters waiting in anticipation just like polar bears waited behind breathing holes of seals to catch a rich and tasty dinner, Aboriginal Australians with their boomerangs mimicking bird wings. Humans have imitated nature since the primitive times with not much of understanding involved. Biomimicry is everywhere, from solar cells that produce energy mimicking tree leaves to breakthroughs in pharmaceuticals based on lizard biology to the Velcro in our closet. Velcro was thought of by George de Mestral while hiking in the Alps in 1941. The constant sticking problem of burrs to his socks and his dog’s fur made him want to look at those little things under the microscope where he found a hoop-and-loop structure which became the main principle of Velcro. Another one of the first ever recorded examples was the idea to create “flying machine” inspired by bird’s flight. Leonardo da Vinci was a bird enthusiast so he observed them and jotted notes on their flight. Although unsuccessful in his mission, a machine was finally made by The Wright Brothers. The first ever airplane inspired from Pigeon’s flight in the year 1903 was finally seen.
Why wildlife inspired biomimcry?
Population explosion and nature are two subjects which run tangential to one another. Everything around us is changing at a very fast pace which is why for every new possible growth some methodologies need to be followed and ideas need to be approached from a source which is constantly developing too, hence wildlife is introduced in the picture. In Biomimicry one can look into the future and into nature’s evolution for using something that’s right in front of us to improve one’s life and create new technology.
Nature based designs
Termite Moulds and Temperature Regulation
The home of a termite is a really fascinating example of temperature regulation. The termites regulate the temperature inside by opening/ closing vents and manipulating air currents when required. Their moulds in East Africa and Northwestern Australia are usually quite enormous and can stand as high as 15 feet. While outside the temperature keeps fluctuating, the inside stays constant, moderate without any energy draining air conditioning. Their main source of food is a particular type of fungus that can survive only at 87 degrees Fahrenheit. The design is as such that it provides optimum air conditioning. This was what inspired Mick Pearce to design the East gate shopping Centre and Office complex in Harare, Zimbabwe. The building is designed in such a way that it’s internally cool without any air-conditioning system. This helped in saving about 3.5 million dollars in energy which is usually the cost in these kinds of buildings requiring air conditioning. Such can be the merits of biomimetic architecture.
Waterloo International Terminal and Pangolin
This structure is based on energy efficient usage mimicking an organism’s physical attributes. Designed by Nicolas Grimshaw and Partners in the year 1993, resembles Pangolin built in modern style. Having a high span, the terminal is built in such a way that it is able to respond to changes in air pressure when the trains enter and depart the station. The animal Pangolin is mimicked in the glass panel fixings area, the structure being very similar to the flexible scale arrangement of the animal which makes it easy for it to move in response to the imposed air pressure gradient.
Dolphins and Signals
Upto 25 kms away Dolphins are able to communicate with one another through some special types of calls called “signature whistles” through the challenging medium which is water. Several frequencies are transmitted such that dolphins know which kind of a call it is, whether it’s a distress call, if it’s the kind of call to help locate other dolphins when lost. Based on this information, a company called EvoLogics developed an underwater modem for such kind of data transmission. Tsunami waves are dozens of feet high and capable of destroying a lot of property and people, so such a system which had pressure sensors located underneath water was deployed which could detect these waves. The Indian Ocean has such a kind of system deployed near the shore areas. The system is called Sweep Spread Carrier (SSC) Technology which detects underwater earthquakes thus helping in predicting tsunamis even when masked by heavy noise and disturbance.
Water proof Smart phone and the Lotus effect
Smart phones are a part of our daily life and almost the entire population owns one. Wants are increasing day by day of people so new features may also cause arising of new issues. The most common want of people is a waterproof smartphone. This feature is extremely wanted since people want to take underwater selfies, protection against accidental liquid spills or even protection from falling of rain droplets on the phones. Lotus effect is one such effect that inspired a waterproof smartphone. The leaves of the Lotus plant have a super hydrophobic surface. The leaves stay dry and if dirt is picked up with the drop, the droplet along with the dirt rolls off the leaves of the plant. In one of the studies, a methodology was proposed to mimic the lotus effect which is exhibited by the waterproof leaves of the lotus plant which will not only make the phone waterproof but also have a self cleaning coating that will keep it free of dirt. In future, the hydrophobic layer on the phones will protect the phones from rain drizzles and even accidental liquid spills.
Few of the other fascinating solutions from nature include Shoes used for climbing walls (Gecko), Bullet train (Kingfisher bird), Painless needle (Mosquito’s proboscis) and Beijing Stadium (Bird’s nest).
Ethical or Unethical? Is the mimicry needed?
There are many views on this particular approach of being inspired by biomimcry while solving problems of mankind. Here the question arises: Is following this approach ethical or unethical, good or bad? Some views about the ethics of biomimcry are in the strong views category while some are in the weaker views category. The stronger view is of the mindset that the principles of nature help to bring about healthy ecology and maintains the integrity of all eco-spheres of Earth while the weaker view states that humans are exploiting and destroying nature. Arguments question whether ‘all “survival of the fittest” groups are ethical since it cannot be claimed whether all surviving individuals are good. The creatures may be a beautiful result of evolution of 3.8 billion years but could also be waste. Solutions for human problems cannot be found in the waste and it is difficult to judge whether the model is a waste product or a useful one. ‘
Biomimicry can also be considered as step towards a risky direction. We can hope for the best yet it may or may not turn out to be the best solution even if it is inspired from wildlife. But again what is life without risk? Specially, if that risk in different areas can turn beneficial. Biomimicry has inspired the human world in every field possible. From energy to architecture to agriculture to the products we can use every day. The world needs such resourceful tools due to the increasing demands of the increasing population.
So, what’s your pick? Ethical, unethical, needed or not needed?
*This blog post is a part of my research work of Forest Research Institute (Deemed to be) University done under the guidance of Dr. Raja Ram Singh. Dr. Raja Ram Singh is currently foreseeing National Tiger Conservation Authority, New Delhi as Assistant Inspector General of Forests. *
Nature’s Wisdom: 9 Brilliant Examples Of Biomimicry In Design, 2017. Data file. Retrieved from the Internet, http://webecoist.momtastic.com/2014/12/31/natures-wisdom-9-brilliant-examples-of-biomimicry-in-design/
Blok, Vincent, and Bart Gremmen. 2016. Ecological Innovation: Biomimicry As A New Way Of Thinking And Acting Ecologically. Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, 29(2): 203-217.
Boga, Miray, and Sebnem Timur. 2017 Exploring Biomimicry In The Students’ Design Process. Design and Technology Education: An International Journal 21(1): 21-31.
Camou, Michelle. 2016. Biomimicry: A Way Toward Earth-CompatibleIndustry? Biomimicry Series Part One.
Fiorentino, Carlos, and Carlos Montana.2015. The Emerging Discipline Of Biomimicry As A Paradigm Shift Towards Design For Resilience. The International Journal of Designed Objects , 8(1): 1-17.
I now write on Green Lens. For more blog posts, please visit there.