Words by Sayli Gokhle
April 21, 2020
3 Minute Read
It’s fascinating to observe the creative process for problem-solving. What’s even more interesting is how diverse approaches to observe the same things can bring out varied results. It is the relatability of the approach, however, that can help bring out the promising solutions. One such approach commonly observed in design is biomimicry.
As the name suggests, biomimicry is an approach of mimicking nature for effective problem-solving. Solutions built with this approach are based on strategies, tried and tested by nature. It offers a reliable foundation to build upon further. This age-old approach has inspired some of the most groundbreaking inventions over the years; that we are so accustomed to, today. We are all aware of the story of the Wright brothers who prototyped the first ever aircraft, inspired by a bird’s flight. The golden ratio, typically associated with all the designers, is a result of biomimicry for perfect aesthetics. The approach can be observed prominently across disciplines such as architecture, product design & innovation, material innovation etc.
The biomimetic approach can be further categorised as follows:
- Form/ structure as an inspiration
- Behavior as an inspiration
- Attribute as an inspiration
This approach takes structure or form as inspiration from nature. One of the most respected and rewarded projects that fall into this category is ‘Supertrees’ in Singapore. Planted perfectly at the intersection of nature and architecture, these man-made trees act as a vertical garden that generates solar power, act as air venting ducts for nearby conservatories and collect rainwater, all at the same time. Many such examples can be observed where replication of a form has solved myriad problems. This approach can be commonly observed in the field of architecture and product development.
Gherkin tower replicates the skin of Venus Flower Basket Sponge for better air circulation.
A deeper understanding of the natural world can help in discovering unique behaviors and attributes that usually go unnoticed. The approach of taking inspiration from natural attributes can be observed in various material inventions. A German company named IPSO invented a paint that replicates the microstructure of lotus leaves. The hydrophobic texture of lotus leaves not only stays dry but also cleans itself. A plastic alternative named Sherlink developed after discarded shrimp shells, replicates its structure. The greatest advantage of such materials is that they are environmentally friendly. With the world moving towards more sustainable development, this approach will help to bring in reliable solutions with reduced costs.
The natural world embodies diverse ecosystems, whose behavior is adaptive of their natural surroundings and situations. Such unique behaviors have laid foundations for some of the most intriguing inventions. One of the very famous examples is sonar communication. The technique typically associated with communication of underwater submarines is based on sound waves. Bats use a biological sonar system to navigate and identify objects too. Scientists are working on more efficient and effective sonar communication, based on the same. The desalination method finds its roots from a beetle that can condense fog into water droplets.
Reach of the biomimetic approach can be perceived beyond just physical products. Many relatable parallels can be found in the digital world as well. It’s interesting to see how the natural habitat communicates without a spoken language. Ant Colony Optimisation Algorithm used in computer science and operational research is built on the behavior of ants finding a food source. Many such algorithms are based on mimicking the behaviours in the animal kingdom. Nomenclatures such as the waterfall method and cloud computing instantly build a connection to the approach. A typical weather app becomes more relatable when the colors of the seasons are displayed. The kindle tries to be easy on the eyes by providing a paperlike reading experience. A home surveillance camera named Ulo, inspired by an owl ensures your child doesn’t run away from it. A smart design in itself, interacts with the user through eyes and expressions, mimicking the emotional aspect of nature.
With the advent of time, technology-dominated industries and lifestyles, we are moving towards the generation of superhumans backed by machine learning and artificial intelligence. With such rapid progress, it’s even more important to retain humane elements in product and service development. While the evolution of technology may have pushed us far from nature, Biomimicry is an attempt to help us relate to digital products better, as second-nature. And as long as the natural world is concerned, this approach will help us find effective, sustainable solutions, with reduced costs for the longer run.
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