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Thursday, December 9, 2010

Biomimicry: Borrow From Nature! Mother Earth Forgets To Patent

Lately I've noticed a decent amount of technological innovation resulting from biomimicry.  Aeronautics traditionally seems to reap the most benefit from this process, but that field is by no means the only one benefiting.  We often come up with designs inspired by nature, but how often is our end result superior than our inspiration?  Seriously studying the chemicals in a butterfly's wing pigmentation, the physics and fluid dynamics behind insects that walk on water, and the aerodynamic specifics of a peregrine falcon's dive-bomb, our eyes widen in reverence and wonder.  Nature's pretty smart, after all.  The awesome power of millions of years of evolution will most often yield an engineering design more efficient than the product of one of our humble engineers, no matter how many pots of Starbucks coffee are available.

I was first caught up in the wonder of biomimicry (or biomimetics) when I read this story: "Fly Eyes Used For Solar Cells" (July 28th 2010 Article on Discovery News)  Solar power is a prime example of us trying to harness nature, but we stopped short, overlooking some important geometry.  The shape and amount of surface area is the key.  Solar panels in the shape of fly's eyes allow much more light to be captured than the simplistic model of light hitting a flat surface.  The original Penn University article is here if you'd like to read more about their project.  See below for the paper involving the process.

Pulsifer, D., Lakhtakia, A., Martín-Palma, R., & Pantano, C. (2010). Mass fabrication technique for polymeric replicas of arrays of insect corneas Bioinspiration & Biomimetics, 5 (3) DOI: 10.1088/1748-3182/5/3/036001

Scientists tend to have a reverence for nature, and rightly so.  Science, at its heart, is the study of nature after all.  Bioevolutionary science in particular can give us some huge benefits and insight.  Millions of years of evolution are the best damned Alpha and Beta phases any project team could ask for.  Dr. Richard Dawkins said, in his recent lecture at Duke University:
  "Survival itself is all it takes to determine the non-random survival of genes that made the desireable characteristic."
So we take the desirable characteristic and we make stuff like this:
The DLR Smartfish, an experimental German airplane,

Bat inspired spy planes [Article,]
Visit the non-profit organization These guys live and breathe this concept.

For further reading:
"You May Soon Be Wearing Chemical Detectors Modeled After Butterfly Wings" Article on CrunchGear

"Seabird's morphing wings inspire design for robots that can both fly and swim" Article on PhysOrg

Flying drones based off of prehistoric flying reptiles. Article on ScienceDaily

"Robots Modeled After Nature" Article on Carnegie Mellon University

"Air force flight control improvements may result from flying insect research" Article on PhysOrg

"Hummingbird Wing: The Future of Flight" Article w/Video on Reuters.  Embedded below

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1 comment:

  1. Excellent. Yes indeed, Mother Nature forgets to patent but you can be sure that the biomimicry posse is patenting Nature as fast as they can.


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