9 Times Inventors Copied Nature

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9 Times Inventors Copied Nature

9 Times Inventors Copied Nature

Human beings are boundlessly creative, but we’re also not above a little thievery when it comes to inventions. One of the best places to look when you’re trying to come up with something completely new is the oldest inventor around: nature. Here are some of the coolest times we’ve engaged in biomimicry, or copying nature to create human inventions.

1. Velcro

One of the older examples of biomimicry, velcro was invented in the 1940s after George de Mestral had to pick burrs off of his dog. He decided to check them out under a microscope and found that they simply had tiny hooks that let them stick to fur and clothes. He copied the tiny hooks to create Velcro.

2. Shinkansen Bullet Train

High-speed trains need to be incredibly careful when it comes to noises. They can create huge claps of noise when they emerge from a tunnel, making unfortunate noise pollution a big problem in areas where they run. To help solve the problem, Eiji Nakatsu looked to the kingfisher. This bird manages to dive into water while chasing fish with almost no ripples, so Nakatsu copied its beak to build a new nose for the train. It solved the noise problem and reduced energy use.

3. Color displays for e-readers

E-readers are one of the biggest trends in technology right now, but it took some time for researchers to figure out the best way to make them display. Some of the biggest problems were glare from sunlight and battery life. To fix it, Qualcomm MEMS Technologies spent some time looking at butterflies. Their beautiful wings get some of their color by reflecting bright light, so the company copied the gleam and created color that reflected instead of transmitted light.

4. More effective wind turbines

Many companies are working on creating renewable energy sources, and one of the most popular today is wind power. Frank Fish is a marine biologist who noticed that humpback whales have some traits that seem counter-intuitive, including bumps along the forward edge of their flippers. Hydrodynamics suggests this would create more drag. So Fish tested the design and found it actually made the flippers more aerodynamic. He went on to apply the findings to wind turbines and made them 20% more efficient.

5. Shark skin plastic wrap

One of the most important medical discoveries ever was the discovery that hygiene was hugely important to preventing diseases from spreading. Unfortunately, even with that knowledge, many medical professionals still end up spreading bacteria and viruses inadvertently. But Tony Brennan discovered something amazing in 2003: shark skin manages to remain completely clean of algae, slime, and barnacles thanks to tiny scales. He used the design to create a plastic wrap that is successfully keeping light switches, monitors, and handles in hospitals clear of germs.

6. Natural ventilation

Some places are just too hot to make air conditioning a sound financial decision, but in Zimbabwe, the designers of the Eastgate building came up with a better way to control the climate. They looked at termite mounds and found that with a simple air exchange system the mounds didn’t change temperature, no matter what the climate outside. So they built the building with ventilation to pull cool air in from the bottom of the building, with cavities under the floor slabs to cool the building, and with angled walls and windows to keep the sun off.

7. Tokyo’s railway system

In an amazing bit of research, Japanese scientists found that slime mold will always grow in the optimal way towards food sources, meaning that it creates the most efficient way to transport nutrients. They used the amazing ability to create the best possible layout for Tokyo’s railway system by placing the mold on a map of the city and adding an oat flake on each station. The final product was quite similar to the actual railway system that had been made with a computer simulation. Researchers look forward to using the mold as a better alternative in the future.

8. Gecko tape

Geckos have the fairly awesome ability to climb up completely vertical surfaces thanks to a plethora of tiny hairs that create tension against all the surface irregularities of a wall. Researchers have found that they can mimic this in tape form so that people can stick objects to walls and peel them off without losing the adhesive properties of the tape. They even imagine people being able to climb walls with the special tape.

9. Dirt resistant paint

Keeping things clean is a big priority of inventors, and after the shark skin plastic wrap, inventors have been looking for more inspiration. Ispo, a German company, found what they were looking for in the lotus flower. Thanks to a surface that is textured similarly to shark skin, the petals are always completely clean, even of specks of dust. The company has since created a paint that copies the flower and keeps the walls squeaky clean.

 

Related topics inventions, nature
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