Biomimicry: Where Innovation And Nature Meet

In 1989, the Shinkansen bullet train was fast, tremendously fast! Its speed was up to 270 kph, but it had one major problem: it would create a loud boom in residential areas while crossing tunnels due to the pressure build-up. Fortunately, Eiji Nakatsu, lead designer at a Japanese railway company, was an avid bird watcher. One day, he was watching a Kingfisher hunt, which was a watershed moment for him; he came up with an indigenous solution using nature. He witnessed that Kingfishers also had to travel silently from one dimension (air) to another (water) to catch their underwater prey. With a little help from biomimicry, he redesigned the train in the image of the bird, giving it a beak-like shape at the front of the train. This made the train 10% faster, utilising 15% less power while being silent as Kingfisher. 

As stated by the Biomimicry Institute, “The core idea is that nature has already solved many of the problems we are grappling with. Animals, plants, and microbes are consummate engineers. After billions of years of research and development, failures are fossils, and what surrounds us is the secret to survival.” 

Just like birds, engineers have learned a lot from aquatic organisms and mimic them in their engineering projects. Take an example of the famous 30 St Mary Axe Skyscraper in London, known as “The Gherkin,” which was inspired by a marine animal called a Venus Flower Basket. 

This sea sponge is assisted with a wide network of spikes arranged vertically, horizontally and diagonally to build a cage-like structure. Its formation is exceptionally robust and structurally sound, which is also incorporated into the Gherkin building, making its structure quite stable. 

It is true that every year, engineering companies spend billions of dollars on research and development in the hope of working with the newest and most innovative designs. Just like unfulfilled desires, investing billions also goes in vain. However, breakthroughs have been found via biomimicry, which depicts the idea of “if you can’t beat them, why not copy them?” 

As the present world is rapidly changing, sustainable design has become a vital aspect of the engineering sector. Another great example of biomimicry can be seen in the case of whales and wind turbines. Whales are nature’s largest creatures, being aerodynamic and being the best swimmers due to bump protrusions on the fins, called tubercles. The fins of whales have inspired many engineers to create serrated-edge wind turbines, which are far quieter and more efficient than smooth blades, which are quite well-known today. 

As per the Biomimicry Institute, biomimicry has a robust potential to inspire sustainable designs across various industries. By learning from genius, from nature or mimicking nature’s creatures, engineering can create innovative solutions that are efficient, resource-friendly and harmonious with the environment. 

Biomimicry: Harnessing Nature’s Brilliance 

Prashant Dhawan, a former architect, entrepreneur, and corporate man, was invited to the tech conference by Rolls Royce in its Bengaluru office to guide engineers to ‘think out of the box.’ So fittingly, he spoke about biomimicry. He said, “Nature had always been the source of inspiration for humans till we became urban. So we call biomimicry ‘the great old, new idea.”

Biomimicry isn’t a new concept; it has been in the world since time immemorial. However, with the growing environmental challenges and the need to overcome them, engineers have started taking inspiration from nature. Nature’s brilliance and adaptability in engineering projects offer great sustainable designs. Many engineers have recognised that mimicking nature to create wonderful creations offers value in multiple ways. From reducing carbon emissions to saving money, reducing waste and finally creating a more harmonious and efficient world, many engineers can learn from nature and implement it in their project design. 

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