Technologies Inspired By Nature

Technologies Inspired By Nature

We have seen incredible inventions and discoveries that have changed our lives for the good. These technological advancements have always found their inspiration in nature. Be it the invention of an airplane or that of the solar cell, we have depended on nature to provide the right path that we can follow. By paying attention to the minutest details of nature, engineers and scientists around the world have developed some pathbreaking devices and technologies.

Wright Brothers were inspired to build the airplane after observing the pigeon in its flight. Many mobile manufacturers have tried to mimic the human eye to create the camera lens. The 2008 Summer Olympics showcased an excellent example of biomimicry. Shark-inspired swimsuits were used in the Olympics that reduced the surface resistance by three percent and enabled the swimmer to use less energy while swimming. These are just a few glimpses of the technologies that were created by biomimicry. This Buzzle write-up brings to you a collection of such technologies that are nature-inspired.

* The technologies are listed in no particular order of ranks.

Bionic Car
Inspired by: Boxfish
Manufacturer: Mercedes-Benz
Created By: DaimlerChrysler AG
Year: 2005
The ace car manufacturer’s new design, the Bionic car is inspired from a fish! Yes, you read it correctly. The car is inspired by boxfish (Ostracion cubicus), a fish that lives in coral reefs, lagoons, and seaweeds. The reason behind using the boxfish as an inspiration is that it uses least amount of energy to move, it is swift in its movement, and its rigid outer skin can sustain collisions. The body of the fish has a networked structure where the bones form plates that are interlinked with each other. These plates protect the fish from injuries, and this structure is identical to that of a car.

The Benefit: This concept car, with its Selective Catalytic Reduction technology converts NOx (nitrogen oxides) into diatomic nitrogen and water, thus lowering the nitrogen oxide emissions by 80%.

Mirasol Display
Inspired by: Butterfly
Manufacturer: Qualcomm
Created By: Mark W. Miles
The biggest problem that one faces while using mobile technology in broad daylight is the device’s insufficient backlit display. Qualcomm engineers tried to counter this problem by creating the Interferometric modulator display (trademarked as Mirasol), and their inspiration in doing so was a butterfly. The wings of a butterfly reflect light from a small air gap, and thus, the specific wavelengths interfere with each other to form new colors, or a single color. In the Mirasol display, the MEMS technique (microscopic machines) is used to fix the size of the air gap, so that a bright single hue is created, thus brightening the display even in sunlight.

The Benefit: The content that is displayed on the mobile devices is visible in broad daylight. Also, due to no backlight in the display, the battery power can be saved.

ZigTech Shoes
Inspired by: Shark Teeth
Manufacturer: Reebok
Created By: Bill McInnis
Year: 2012 (Launched)
The ZigTech shoes that Reebok launched recently is inspired by the shark’s teeth. The sole technology used in these shoes is a modified version of the shark teeth that have a 20-degree backward angle. This angle gives an increased cushioning to the foot and also provides vertical and horizontal impact alongside providing road grip. The shoes also provide increased traction and thus, the user experiences complete comfort while running, walking, or jumping.

The Benefit: The backward angle of the sole provides cushioning and increased traction while running, thus reducing the possibility of injuries.

Self-cleaning Surfaces
Inspired by: Lotus Leaf
Discovered by: Wilhelm Barthlott
Year: 1998 (Launched)
The Lotus plant has a special quality of self-cleaning itself. Thus, even if it is in muddy water, the leaf stands meters above the water, keeping the leaves dirt-free. This self-cleaning nature of the Lotus leaf has been applied in the field of nanotechnology. Taking inspiration, Barthlott developed self-cleaning surfaces that had the ability to permanently retain air under water. These nano materials are used in making mirrors, windows, and tiles. The skyscrapers in many countries use this “Lotus effect” so that there is no human cleaning intervention. Also, paints and coatings can shrug off dust and keep themselves clean.

The Benefit: Apart from using the Lotus effect in nanotechnology, a new range of self-cleaning cotton fabric is being created that will cleanse itself when exposed to sunlight, thus eliminating the usage of water.

Velcro Technology
Inspired by: Burrs
Manufacturer: Velcro
Created By: George de Mestral
Year: 1948
The hook-and-loop fasteners, Velcro is inspired by none other than the burrs (seeds of burdock). Yes, these are the same burrs that stick to clothes and animal fur. This biomimicry is achieved by using two strips of material where one of the strips has hooks and the other has loops. When the hooks get locked in the loops, the two strips stick together. A two-inch square piece of Velcro can support a person weighing 79 kg. The material’s effectiveness doesn’t reduce even after many fastenings and unfastenings. This technology has also been used in tapes, as shoe fasteners, and by the NASA for making astronaut suits, etc.

The Benefit: The Velcro material can be reused several times without any change in its efficiency. It is also safe and very easy to use.

Distribution Network
Inspired by: Leaf Veins
Research by: Rockefeller University
Paper Submitted By: Marcelo O. Magnasco (lead researcher) & Eleni Katifori
Year: 2010
The veins of the leaves have inspired a whole new model of distribution network, and this study was published as a white paper by researchers from Rockefeller University. According to their research, the leaves have a central stalk from where branches arise; these branches give rise to more branches and so on. In spite of the netlike structure, they are able to transport water, thus serving as the perfect distribution network for supplying fluctuating loads to varying parts of the leaf. This principle can be mimicked to form a robust cargo distribution network, so that the material reaches the destination in the least possible time. These networks can also work for fluctuating demand situations. Thus, the transportation of water in the leaf has inspired the formation of a robust and load-bearing structure.

The Benefit: Such networks reduce the time taken to deliver any cargo to its destination, even under varying (demanding) conditions.

Bulletproof Vest
Inspired by: Spider silk
Research by: Jalila Essaïdi
The bulletproof vests that are used currently are made from artificial fiber known as Kevlar. However, nature has a stronger replacement for this fiber, which is none other than spider silk. The spider web silk is four times stronger than Kevlar and can bear an impact force five times greater than its own strength. The silk is also highly elastic and can stretch 40% longer than its original length. The currently used material is less elastic and flexible and also produces byproducts that can harm the environment. After several trial and errors on the spider web-based material, scientists intend to use the same for making artificial ligaments, suspension bridges, parachutes, etc.

The Benefit: Spider silk thread is highly elastic in nature and has four times more strength (stronger than steel) than the currently used artificial fiber.

FastRunner Robot
Inspired by: Ostrich
Research by: MIT, DARPA, IHMC
The latest robotic project to take off is the FastRunner robot, a collaboration project between DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Authority), MIT, and the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition (IHMC). This robot is expected to run at a speed of 27 mph, and the initial tests have recorded a speed of 22 mph. This robot is inspired from an ostrich, as the latter can achieve a steady speed of 31 mph with least energy conservation. Ostriches move their legs back and forth without lifting them and are thus, able to maintain their speed.

The Benefit: This two-legged robot, due to its high speed, is expected to be used at war zones as land drones and also to provide relief supplies during disaster situations.

Fog Harvesting
Inspired by: Namib Beetle
Research by: Shreerang Chhatre
Created By: Meteorological Service of Canada
Year: mid-1980s
The scientists at MIT are closely studying the fog collection pattern of the Stenocara beetle, also known as the Namib beetle, which is a native of Namib Desert in Africa. The beetle collects the morning fog and lets it to roll into its mouth. Thus, it uses the fog as a source of drinking water. On similar lines, scientists are trying to build devices that can attract fog and then collect the water droplets to get clean drinking water. A prototype model of the device is developed that consists of a mesh-like panel that can collect water droplets, and this mesh is connected to storage containers.

The Benefit: This technology will prove useful in areas that are water-deficient by only collecting the morning fog. It aims to solve the water problems by providing clean water.

Micro Air Vehicles
Inspired by: Swift
Research by: Biomimetics Innovation Center
Created By: Mr. William Thielicke
Year: 2011
Researchers at the Biomimetics Innovation Center in Germany have designed a micro aircraft that can flap its wings and glide like a bird. These micro air vehicles (MAVs) are to be used in rescue operations in dangerous areas as they are unmanned. The design is inspired by the highly maneuverable bird, Swift. Swift can glide very efficiently without wasting a lot of energy in flapping. These MAVs will have flexible wings and high maneuverability. The prototypes are still in the development stage.

The Benefit: The high maneuverability vehicle is expected to be employed in rescue operations where human intervention is not possible.

These are just a few examples from the hundreds of nature-inspired technologies. Though a few of these technologies are yet to see the light of the day, they have proved to be successful in the prototyping stages. With improvisations done to the initial design, these devices can serve mankind in more ways than one. So, if there are some problems that are yet to be resolved, all we have to do is to take a close look at nature, and we will definitely find a solution.

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