Innovation Inspired by Nature

Summary

Drawing inspiration from plants, animals and ecosystems in order to design sustainable innovations: more and more companies are investing in this concept based on the principles of biomimicry.

25Août.
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A research and development program spanning 3.8 billion years. Who can make such a boast? No one… except for Mother Nature. Exploring the unique properties of flora and fauna is the challenge at the heart of biomimicry, or “the development of nature-inspired solutions to human problems, in the broadest sense of the term,” as summarized by Kalina Raskin, Scientific Development Coordinator at CEEBIOS (European Center of Excellence in Biomimicry in Senlis) and member of the association Biomimicry Europa.

A need to work on sustainable development

“This process is now picking up speed in companies, but it is actually as old as the world,” observes Alain Renaudin, CEEBIOS Consultancy Manager. “It is very likely that the first human beings were inspired by other animals’ techniques when it came to hunting, fishing or building a home.” Moreover, the great inventors’ discoveries have often been built on their observation of nature. For example, Clément Ader (1841-1925), a pioneer in aviation, was inspired by bat wings when he created his first motorized flying machine!

Although the concept is not a new one, it only garnered recognition thanks to American scientist Janine Benyus, who founded the Biomimicry Guild in 1998. In the United States, Japan and Germany, many companies have already implemented this approach in order to create new products, services, and even new organizations, because “they need to innovate and work on issues of sustainability in the medium and long terms,” explains Kalina Raskin. Not to mention the fact that “scientific advances, especially in nanotechnologies, now allow us to interpret and understand a number of natural phenomena that were previously a mystery,” adds Alain Renaudin.

Wind turbine blades inspired by owl wings

In Zimbabwe, the structures of termites’ nests inspired the construction of a building able to self-regulate its temperature.

“Biomimicry is really developing now in the chemical, energy and materials sectors,” reports Kalina Raskin. But it is also becoming increasingly common in the fields of architecture and design. Airbus and Boeing, for example, created energy-saving airplanes with upturned winglets, inspired by large eagles. Another bird that has been the subject of study is the owl. A Cambridge University mathematician is now working to create low-noise wind turbine blades, using technology inspired by that world champion of silent flight. In Zimbabwe, too, the structures of termites’ nests inspired the construction of a building able to self-regulate its temperature. And the plant world is also right in the thick of things. In fact, recent research into the properties of pine cones, which expand and retract according to humidity levels in the air, made it possible to design buildings that regulate their temperatures without consuming energy. The lotus blossom is another favorite source of inspiration among plantlife. Its water-repellent properties have been studied and transposed into a wide variety of products (including windshields, airplane cockpits and much more). The plant in question also inspired car manufacturer Nissan to develop a self-cleaning body for one of its vehicle prototypes.

Let’s open up our scientific cliques!

These discoveries are often the fruit of multidisciplinary scientific cooperation (biology, physics, sociology, etc.). How did the Japanese Shinkansen bullet train come to be designed in the shape of a kingfisher’s beak? “It so happened that one of the engineers in charge of designing the train was also a biology enthusiast,” explains Alain Renaudin. “The way that kingfishers dive into the water inspired his solution to the problem of the very loud noise the trains made going into and out of tunnels.” Conclusion: Let’s open up our scientific cliques!

Photo © : EQ Roy