As I was writing the last post about mimicking nature to grow food without fossil fuels, I stumbled on this TED talk by biomimicry consultant Janine Benyus. Personally, I can’t get enough of kinds of the examples she gives for how we can do things more efficiently by copying the way nature already does them.
“We’re not the first ones to build. We’re not the first ones to process cellulose. We’re not the first ones to make paper. We’re not the first ones to try to optimize packing space or waterproof or heat and cool a structure. We’re not the first ones to build houses for our young. What’s happening now is people are beginning to remember that organisms in the rest of the natural world are doing things very similar to what we need to do, but they’re doing it in a way that has allowed them to live gracefully on this planet for millions of years.”
She goes on to note a dozen examples of how nature is inspiring better technology, including:
- A quieter train design that mimics a kingfisher.
- Bacteria-repellant surfaces that mimic a shark’s skin structure.
- Carbon-sequestering cement that mimics coral reefs.
- Water filters that mimic our own red blood cells.
- Buildings and bridges that respond to stress like trees and bones.
- Home appliances that reduce energy use by mimicking the swarm behavior of ants and bees.
- Wallpaper that mimics a tree’s transpiration process to move water up a building without a pump.
- Wind turbines whose blades mimic the shape of dolphin flippers, fins and tails to reduce drag by 32 percent and allow wind energy to be generated in slower winds.
Benyus is now part of a network of organizations that are building an online inventory of biological systems that’s organized by design and engineering function. The idea is that one day people will be able to type their design needs into the system and find out how our “elders” have done it in the natural world.