Modern-Day Inventions You Can Thank Mother Nature For

By Robin Mei - January 14, 2017

How Are Birds and Bullet Trains the Same?

Credits: Image: by Marco Merli / Caters News

When a group of Japanese engineers was asked to redesign and upgrade the country’s bullet trains they looked to nature and found an amazing solution for their biggest problem: the noise.

To accomplish this, they studied a bird called the kingfisher and the way it hunts. The kingfisher’s long beak, which helps the bird avoid making splashes in the water that might frighten off potential prey, inspired changes that saw trains being faster with less electricity needed to power them.

Source: The best of biomimicry: Here’s 7 brilliant examples of nature-inspired design

Improving Aerodynamics

High-speed trains sacrifice silence for speed and the result can be unavoidably loud machines. Particularly problematical is an effect they create when entering tunnels: a powerful shockwave known as “tunnel boom” that could be strong enough to do structural damage to tunnels. The root of the problem was the flat nose of the trains.

ThJapanese engineers copied the way kingfisher birds use their distinct beaks to dive into the water with a minimal splash to streamline their trains and in turn solve their tunnel boom issues.

How Can Geckos Help Space Exploration?

Credits: Image: Bjørn Christian Tørrissen

Geckos are ever-adapting reptiles that can be found in the wild almost everywhere in the world —rainforests, mountains and deserts. Not to mention their popularity as pets.

The gecko is probably best-known for its multi-purpose tail which it can shed to avoid being captured by predators. But, there’s another interesting feature that has also grabbed the spotlight — their ability to defy gravity and walk on walls and ceilings.

Source: Gecko

Putting This Reptile's Stickiness to Good Use

Credits: Image: NASA

The secret of the gecko’s ability to move around in all directions on any surface, including ceilings, lies in its toes. A gecko’s feet are covered with setae, a fine line of superthin hair that helps it literally glue itself to any surface.

This phenomenon inspired researchers to investigate how this gripping system works and how it could be adapted by humans. As a result, engineers are developing the gecko skin technology now being applied mostly in robotics and space technology by agencies such as NASA.

Source: Gecko Gripper (Gecko Gripper) – 12.06.17

Why Are Butterflies Changing the Way You Look at Things?

Sometimes, in order to move ahead, you have to think outside the box. Biomimicry is a perfect example, and it also offers opportunities to change and adapt concepts and principles inspired by science already in use by nature.

Butterflies are not inspiring only to artists and other gentle souls, but also to scientists (and we don’t mean just biologists and insectologists). Innovators and inventors trying to improve existing technologies have been looking to the butterfly’s primary mode of transportation — its wi.

Source: Color E-readers Inspired by Butterflies

Advancements in Digital Screens

For the past ten years, the sheen of butterfly wings has helped researchers who have been working on new forms of color displays that will be used in e-readers. It was Qualcomm MEMS Technologies that managed to create an e-reader prototype with the first full-color and video-friendly display called Mirasol.

Instead of sending light from behind the screen as LCD monitors do, this system actually reflects light, just like butterfly wings do, allowing people to use their e-reader in bright sunlight.

How Did a Weed Change the World?

Burdock was originally found scattered across Asia and Europe, but today you’d be hardpressed to find someone who hasn’t had an encounter with the burrs this weed is known for that manage to attach themselves to almost anything.

Even something so familiar as the humble burdock can serve not only as a trigger to a great invention but as an example of how the science behind nature can work for people. That’s precisely how Velcro, one of today’s most widely used materials, was discovered.

Velcro is Born

It was during hunting season in 1941 in the Jura mountains in Switzerland when engineer George de Mestral got the inspiration for Velcro, today’s omnipresent material with widespread applications in so many areas.

After one of his hunting sessions, Mestral noticed that both his pants and his dog’s fur were covered with burdock burrs. He placed a burr under a microscope and studied the mechanism of how they hooked onto things. He used these findings to create Velcro, a material he patented in 1955.

Source: Technologies inspired by nature

Did You Know Termites Are Heating and Cooling Experts?

The structures some animals create to help survive the harshness of their natural habitats can be awe-inspiring for biomimicry-oriented planners and engineers.

One such example is mound-building termites and their impressive architecture that can reach heights of 10 meters (30 feet) and diameters of 30 meters (100 feet). But the most exciting thing about them is that they serve the additional purpose of being a ventilation system, on top of supplying shelter.

Source: Why termites build such enormous skyscrapers

Environmentally Friendly Air Conditioning

Credits: Image:

These termites use the structures they build to cool themselves down. Thanks to principles behind convection, an all-natural ventilation system is created that allows them to survive in extreme heat.

These air-conditioned mounds termites have developed over millennia of evolution encouraged engineers to try to do the same in Africa. A shopping center in Zimbabwe built using this same concept is uses approximately 10 percent less energy than other air-conditioned buildings using more traditional design techniques.

Why Are Humpback Whales Helping You Conserve Energy?

Credits: Image: Whit Welles Wwelles14

Humpback whales are a fascinating species for many reasons, but the one we’d like to showcase here may come as a bit of surprise. These massive marine mammals’ aerodynamic biology and their underwater maneuverability have sparked a new way of doing things for wind turbines.

The fins of the humpback whale have small ridges and bumps on their edges called tubercles. The humpback uses these tubercles to prevent itself from stalling as it turns underwater.

Improving Wind Turbines

Credits: Image: Whale Power Corporation

A team of Harvard researchers looked further into this and found that a humpback whale’s fins help them to get more lift as they swim, especially when it is maneuvering to catch fish.

The lift/stall principle was used for improving wind turbines. According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Candian company Whale Power has applied the concept to turbine blades. The result? Their blades generate the same amount of energy at 16 kilometers an hour (10 miles per hour) as traditional blades do at 27 km/h (17 mph).

Source: Humpback Whales Solve A Big Problem For Wind Turbines

Why Will Lives Be Saved Thanks to the Stenocara Beetle?

The Stenocara beetle lives in some very harsh conditions under the unrelenting sun of the African Namib desert. Life in such an environment with little or no water at all seems almost impossible, but this tiny beetle has found a way to endure.

The Stenocara beetle has developed a very efficient system for surviving in this extremely dry area — it collects water from the air. During the morning fog, it collect condensing vapor on the ridges of its back and pours it straight into its mouth.

Game-Changing Moisture Collectors

This beetle’s water-collecting system has inspired researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to think about using the same principles at much larger scales to accumulate water from the atmosphere.

They have used glass and plastic to develop a lumpy material which perfectly mimics the Stenocara’s back. It is hoped further testing will show the most efficient way of how and where this material can be used to help areas stricken with drought, but the prognosis is very optimistic.

How Do Octopus Play a Role in People Staying Out of Sight?

Credits: Image: Albert Kok

All of the members of the Cephalopoda class, including squid and the octopus, have a very intriguing feature: they use camouflage every time they find themselves in any kind of danger.

Some of them use bioluminescence, the ability to give off an ethereal glow to intimidate an enemy. Others change color to match their surroundings and avoid being noticed by predators. These remarkable skills have motivated researchers to take a closer look at their possible uses for human.

The Camouflage of the Future

Credits: Image: University of Houston

This subject has especially captured the attention of a group of scientists from the University of Houston, who studied the behavior of Cephalopodas and the mechanisms they use for their defense, camouflage included.

Their research has resulted in the development of a prototype device that can detect different visual elements of its surroundings using a network of super-small light sensors, reflectors and actuators, mimicing that environment in just a few seconds.

Can Spiders Really Help People Who Need Medical Assistance?

Even though spider silk looks very subtle and fragile, it’s one of the strongest and durable all-natural materials. For example, if we compare it with steel by weight, spider silk turns out to be almost five times stronger.

Spider silk also has other interesting scientific characteristics. It’s both very light and also amazingly stretchy. In addition to that, it can be sticky when needed (for catching prey) and non-sticky along the areas a spider uses to pass across it.

Spider Silk Tape

Credits: Image: The Karp Lab

The incredible qualities of spider silk served as the initial concept behind the possibilities of a medical product that would have the same characteristics. The result was a super fine, flexible tape that can be applied to a wound and peeled off when needed without leaving any damage to the tissue underneath it.

Scientists are also considering further applications of spider silk-inspired materials. The potential is enormous, especially in different medical fields.

Did Sharks Make Olympians Swim Faster?

Credits: Image: Travelbag Ltd

The distinguishing features of shark skin have a huge role in biomimicry and other related scientific fields of research dealing with the utilization of nature-inspired solutions.

When it was discovered that sharks are covered with a layer of “dermal denticles,” which can be described as a flexible grid of small teeth, scientists began looking into exactly why this feature was there. It turned out that these dermal denticles help to create a low-pressure zone on the shark’s body, reducing drag and helping it tswim faster.

Increased Speed and Protection in the Water

One of the first applications of this sharkskin technology was in the swimwear industry. Speedo used it in their high-performance swimsuits that helped 98 percent of 2008 Olympic medalists land on the podium. Suits employing the technology is now banned in Olympic competition.

Another feature of dermal denticles is its ability to prevent the accumulation of microorganisms. That finding was used to develop Sharklet, a flexible coating which the U.S. Navy applies t their ships to reduce marine growth.

Why Did a Designer Need This Tree?

Baobab trees are some of the most striking-looking trees on our planet. These amazing giants can grow from 5 to 30 meters tall (approximately 16 to 98 feet) and reach 7 to 10 meters (23 to 36 feet) in diameter. On top of their colossal tree trunks, baobabs grow shiny dark green leaves, arranged in clusters.

These fascinating threes have served as an inspiration for various artists and designers.

Source:Baobab Facts

The Baobab Treehouse

The baobab tree was a major influence for Antony Gibbon Designs when Gibbon came up with an idea to create an organically-shaped treehouse.

When attached to a tree these structures, named the Embryo Treehouse, look like they are wrapping themselves around its trunks like a natural outgrowth, giving them the distinctive look of a baobab.

Embryo Treehouses also have a minimal impact on the natural forest environment and allow trees to grow without any limitations.

Do You Own Something Inspired by the Armadillo?

Armadillos are the walking tanks of the animal kingdom, thanks to the bony plates they grow on their backs, tails, extremities and heads. Resembling a knight’s armor, the Spanish used the word armadillo — “little-armored one” — to name these odd creatures.

Armadillos can be found mostly in Latin America, with the exception of one variety native to the United States. Their unique looks have inspired biomimicry-oriented designers, and now the science behind these little-armored ones can also be found on peoples’ back too.

Wearing Nature on Your Back

Credits: Image: Cylus

The intriguing armor of the armadillo was the main inspiration when Cylus decided to design a new line of backpacks.

Just as the sturdy yet flexible plating of an armadillo offers excellent protection from its predators without limiting its movement, this backpack takes that same concept and applies it in the world of practical fashion.

Highly adaptable and long-lasting, these backpacks ar made of recycled rubber and other durable materials.

Who Are Beavers Keeping Warm in the Water?

Credits: Image: Cheryl Reynolds / Worth a Dam

Beavers are known as nature’s skilled engineers who can piece together river-blocking dams of all sizes. There is a lesser known physical feature that only beavers and sea otters share: the lack of a thick layer of fat that both water-based mammals usually have.

Yet, that doesn’t stop these semiaquatic animals enjoying their surroundings as they manage to remain warm and quite dry even after long periods of being submerged in water.

Helping Surfers Do Their Thing

Credits: Image: Felice Frankel

The amazing fact that beavers can remain warm and almost completely dry after swimming even though they don’t have that much fat on their bodies has always intrigued scientists.

A group of MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) engineers is particularly interested, inspiring them to create unique fur-like pelts made of rubber that borrow the insulation science behind how beavers fight off the cold.

The possible applications of their findings are quite wide but the current focus is on wetsuits, especially those designed for surfers.

Source: Beaver-inspired wetsuits in the works