As climate change puts pressure on finding innovative solutions, researchers are increasingly turning to nature for inspiration. The field of biomimicry focuses on emulating natural designs to develop better technology and address sustainability challenges. Here are 5 striking examples of biomimicry in action:
1. Whale-Inspired Turbine Blades
The bumpy flippers of humpback whales allow them to adeptly maneuver through water. Applying this design to wind turbine blades makes them more efficient. Adding bumps or tubercles helps reduce drag and improve lift at lower wind speeds. In testing by researchers, biomimetic turbine blades achieved gains of 30% in lift and 33% reduction in drag. This bio-inspired approach could make wind power more viable as a renewable energy source.
2. Slime Mold for Mapping Transport Networks
The fast foraging behavior of slime mold can be replicated to model optimised transport networks. In studies, slime mold successfully mapped out efficient rail and road links when food was used to represent urban areas needing connections. The rapid growth of slime mold – expanding 1cm per hour – enables quick-turnaround simulations and comparisons to existing infrastructure. This living “supercell” mapping could assist transport planning and adapt to simulate disruptions like accidents or floods.
3. Robotic Bees for Hive Health Monitoring
Researchers are developing robotic bees that integrate into colonies to monitor hive conditions. Equipped with sensors, the robots influence natural bee behavior by simulating stimuli like temperature. This reduces stress on living bees versus direct hive inspections. An evolutionary algorithm utilises data from living bees to refine robotic bee interactions within the hive. This technology could assist beekeepers in maintaining honey bee colonies, which are threatened globally.
4. Octopus-Inspired Robotic Arms for Surgery
Soft robotic arms that mimic octopus flexibility have advantages in medical applications. Researchers created the arms to stiffen or soften on demand, enabling delicate navigation of confined surgical spaces. This bio-inspired approach aims to enhance precision and tactile feedback during minimally invasive keyhole procedures. Already tested on cadavers, the robotic arms may eventually be used in live human operations after veterinary trials.
5. Self-Planting Pods Based on Erodium Seeds
Some clever plants, like Erodium, have seeds carried in spiral stalks that unwind to drill into soil. Researchers applied this ingenious concept to create planting pods that could allow aerial seeding of hard-to-access areas. The resulting E-seed pods are biodegradable and optimised to respond to moisture. Possible uses include revegetation, crop planting, and delivering fungi or fertilisers. The technology has generated interest across agriculture, forestry and other fields.
As these examples demonstrate, nature already provides tested models optimised over millennia. Expanding the exchange of knowledge between biologists and technologists can unlock many more solutions to build a sustainable future.