Biomimetic file 169: Robot Sea-Snake!

Robot Sea-Snake

skynet snake

Image source: Kongsberg Maritime/Statoil 

Highlight: “The Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Kongsberg Maritime, and Statoil are developing  Eelume, a self-propelled, aquatic, mechanical serpent… Perfectly adapted to swimming through the water – rather like a real sea snake – it is designed to examine submerged equipment, inspecting it for damage and undertaking simple maintenance tasks using inbuilt pincers and other small tools. If they’re in a hurry, they can use on-board thrusters for a speed boost…”

Insight: We know more about our solar system then about the deep parts of our own oceans! Attempts to explore the deeps have so far failed due to far too expensive technologies and difficulties to overcome the challenges namely intense pressures and darkness. Rather than sending people in outdated submarines, the solution is clearly going towards automated unmanned vehicles. The current designs are limiting in movements and lifetime of the batteries.

It seems logical that the ultimate exploration devices would in fact mimic natural species living in these ecosystems in order to maximize the efficiency of movement but also to blend in among other life forms. Perhaps in a near future an array of snake-like robots would be constantly patrolling the world oceans building up a world database (perhaps even discovering new species in the process) and mapping the reefs and seabeds. A new challenge for Google?

More information: here

What is Biomimetics: the field of gaining inspiration from nature first to solve some of our most difficult challenges. Instead of coming up with our own solutions to a problematic, the odds are that species or natural systems on the planet already offer an ultimate solution. This simple fact is also another strong case to preserve species at all cost as the intellectual heritage contained within or through the study of species is both irreplaceable and invaluable…

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www.biodiversity.sg

 

Biomimetic file 164: Hydrogels in robotics

Hydrogels in robotics

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Image source: materialstoday.com

Highlight: “The mimic octopus is a truly bizarre dweller of the deep. It possesses the ability to rapidly change its skin color and texture in order to camouflage itself against its environment. In addition, it can imitate the behavior of several different animals, allowing it to run, slither like a snake, and even act as a jellyfish…Now, a team of robotics engineers at Cornell University have developed an artificial skin that can stretch and change color in much the same way. As their pioneering study in the journal Science reveals, this could transform the field of robotics – particularly in the field of health care…Soft robotics is a particularly new form of engineering, based around the idea that all of the components need to be flexible. These types of robots will theoretically be able to move around in restricted spaces using a variety of locomotion methods, but before they become a reality, their basic construction materials need to be developed…”

Insight: In a similar way than moving forward with soft robotics, business models also need to transform themselves to become more “soft”:  that is being reactive and adaptable. Societies are transforming themselves faster than at any given time in modern human history but despite this obvious change many businesses are still stuck with outdated models and mindsets. Particular sectors such as IT based solutions, cloud technologies or 3D printing are in the midst of transforming our societies economical models. Many small and large companies are struggling to keep afloat in these transition times and it is expected that many will fall as a result of their incapacity to react fast enough to the change. Soft models are the best defense against change and there are many examples in natural systems that illustrate this point…

More information: here

What is Biomimetics: the field of gaining inspiration from nature first to solve some of our most difficult challenges. Instead of coming up with our own solutions to a problematic, the odds are that species on the planet already offer an ultimate solution. This simple fact is also another strong case to preserve species at all cost as the intellectual heritage contained within or through the study of species is both irreplaceable and invaluable…

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www.biodiversity.sg

 

 

Biomimetic file 153: fire retardants

Non-Toxic flame retardants developed from compounds found in Mussels

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Highlight: “Researchers at the University of Texas in Austin have developed a new flame-retardant substance based on a natural chemical used by mussels. Flame retardants are a coating added to manufactured materials that can stop or delay the spread of fire. They are used in the textile, computer, and construction industries, but most traditional flame retardants are highly toxic. This study, published in Chemistry of Materials, is an important breakthrough in creating non-toxic flame retardant materials…”

Insight: A common dilemma in products development is to come up with functional efficient products but at the same time not to compromise safety for human usage. It can often be a challenge as toxicity is a common outcome of improved efficiency especially when dealing with chemicals (e.g. the Superglue). Nature often provides solutions because efficiency within organisms can only be within certain limits that prevents the species from destroying themselves. Examples would include self physical protections against the toxins (e.g. Puffer-fish contain very toxic substances but these are confined within organs layered with special coatings to neutralize the toxin) or self immune compounds (e.g. venomous snakes)…

More information: here

What is Biomimetics: the field of gaining inspiration from nature first to solve some of our most difficult challenges. Instead of coming up with our own solutions to a problematic, the odds are that species on the planet already offer an ultimate solution. This simple fact is also another strong case to preserve species at all cost as the intellectual heritage contained within or through the study of species is both irreplaceable and invaluable…

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www.biodiversity.sg

Biomimetic file 152: new materials

New materials: reduced weight/improved strength

Dandelion

Picture source: Boeing

Highlight: “Aerospace giant Boeing has developed the lightest metal structure ever, which is also one of the lightest materials known to science, called Microlattice.The entire structure is 99.99% air and is comparable to the hollow honeycomb architecture of bone. The structure is composed of a network of super thin, hollow struts. The struts are around 100 micrometers in diameter and have walls just 100 nanometers thick. It’s this design that makes Microlattice 10 times lighter than Styrofoam. However, despite it being insanely light, it is also extremely strong.”

Insight: While our senses mislead us to think that we live in a three dimensional space, we are actually surrounded by multiple dimensions. Indeed, we only see the surface of things when in fact new dimensions start to become apparent with a closer look. For instance a simple fabric may seem like a plain colored surface but zooming in with the naked eye will start to reveal the mesh structure, zooming in further will expose inter locked fibers used to make the fabric and going down even further using technology will reveal hidden dimensions up to the molecular level and beyond.

The simple point here is that we overlook the dimensions of space including within organisms where the very fabric of living tissues and molecular structures are a great deal of inspiration in areas such as design or engineering. While some species have been studied for their behaviors, taxonomy, morphology or anatomy, very little work has looked closer into the tissue structures at different scales. Special traits in species (e.g unusual surface strength) should serve as a hint that perhaps elements of their structures could provide applied solutions…

More information: here

What is Biomimetics: the field of gaining inspiration from nature first to solve some of our most difficult challenges. Instead of coming up with our own solutions to a problematic, the odds are that species on the planet already offer an ultimate solution. This simple fact is also another strong case to preserve species at all cost as the intellectual heritage contained within or through the study of species is both irreplaceable and invaluable…

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www.biodiversity.sg

Biomimetic file 151: Energy Storage

Mushroom inspired batteries can significantly increase their lifetime

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Image source: ALAMY

Highlight: “Existing lithium-ion batteries use graphite for the anode, which requires a high standard of purification, accounting for a significant portion of the cost. Graphite anodes also degrade relatively quickly, interfering with long-term storage capacity. The ideal replacement would contain plenty of salt to act as an electrolyte, be porous enough to leave plenty of space to hold lithium and could be grown naturally…A team at the University of Riverside have met success with the skins of Agaricus bisporus…the humble mushroom has been roped into service in one of the great technological quests of our time, to extend the lifespan of batteries…”

Insight: On one hand species can provide solutions to gain inspiration in order to improve current systems. On the other, there are now several case studies that demonstrate that it is possible to directly combine living systems with engineered processes. The concept implies more reliance on ecosystem services in order to achieve better outcomes.

A simple successful example already well established is water purification processes relying heavily on bacterial activity combined with mechanical elements.  A not so successful example is an artificial kidney used in dialysis treatment which is very expensive and far from being as efficient as a natural kidney organ.

This business model provides new challenges such as maintaining the durability and stability of the living part of such systems but also new opportunities to achieve things that are simply not possible or unsustainable given our current technologies. The simple point here is why always rely on technology when complex tasks could be carried out more effectively and at a cheaper cost through available ecosystem services already optimized for specific tasks?

More information: here

What is Biomimetics: the field of gaining inspiration from nature first to solve some of our most difficult challenges. Instead of coming up with our own solutions to a problematic, the odds are that species on the planet already offer an ultimate solution. This simple fact is also another strong case to preserve species at all cost as the intellectual heritage contained within or through the study of species is both irreplaceable and invaluable…

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www.biodiversity.sg

Biomimetic file 148: “Submerged Dryness”

Submerged Dryness

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Highlight: “Objects that are kept underwater eventually succumb to the inevitable decay associated with being submerged – metal rusts, wood rots… These effects could be delayed in the future by a new type of rough coating that “deflects” water…The material uses the same strategy as water-walking insects such as water striders…”

Insight: The potential for water repealing technologies are overlooked. Indeed water corrosion related damages amount in the billions every year in sectors as diverse as static (e.g. Desalination plants) or mobile (Ships) submerged systems. An effective technology that will prevent corrosion will revolutionize these sectors and provide release from an ongoing financial burden. While various innovations have been tried such as keeping surfaces electrified, the problem remains. Perhaps preventing contact of surfaces with water altogether is the solution and nature provides multiple examples of such…

More information: here

What is Biomimetics: the field of gaining inspiration from nature first to solve some of our most difficult challenges. Instead of coming up with our own solutions to a problematic, the odds are that species on the planet already offer an ultimate solution. This simple fact is also another strong case to preserve species at all cost as the intellectual heritage contained within or through the study of species is both irreplaceable and invaluable…

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www.biodiversity.sg

Biomimetic file 144: Robo-Roach!

 Robo-Roach!

VelociRoACH vs cockroach_0

Picture source: Chen Li/University of California, Berkeley

Highlight: “Scientists have modeled a little robot on one of nature’s hardiest insects: the cockroach…it has been retrofitted with a streamlined shell, perfect for helping the bot scrabble through obstacles….The roach uses its natural ‘parkour skillz’, side-rolling to get around barriers it comes across. It is this rotating motion that the team from the University of California, Berkeley, wanted to replicate in their cockroach-inspired robot.”

Insight: As we are only starting the process of replicating natural traits through the use of technology, many aspects of modern robotics have already taken their inspiration from nature. In robotics walking patterns mimicking movements of various animals have significantly contributed to the field should it be through the study of small insects or larger animals such as kangaroos. Other developments of robotics have also made use of simple neuron transmission patterns studied in primitive insects (e.g. cockroaches). From an energy point of view, when studying nature we find that adaptations have often favored developments going towards solutions of lowest energy; in other words species move and behave according to optimal energy efficiency patterns. We should seek more energy efficiency solutions through the study of species…

More information: here

What is Biomimetics: the field of gaining inspiration from nature first to solve some of our most difficult challenges. Instead of coming up with our own solutions to a problematic, the odds are that species on the planet already offer an ultimate solution. This simple fact is also another strong case to preserve species at all cost as the intellectual heritage contained within or through the study of species is both irreplaceable and invaluable…

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www.biodiversity.sg

Biomimetic file 139: Refrigerant free vaccines inspired from sea urchins

Refrigerant free vaccines inspired from sea urchins

Image source: Clip Art image

Highlight: ” CSIRO researchers have come up with a protective seashell-inspired capsule that could cost-effectively and reliably preserve the key active ingredients in vaccines…It mimics a process called biomineralisation where sea urchins grow a hard, protective shell to safeguard their fragile tissue inside. Applying this concept, has led to a molecular-scale shell that grows around and protects fragile biomolecules such as proteins and enzymes.”

Insight: Energy needs (and its cost) often make the difference between a commercially viable initiate and one that is not. In the case of the pharmaceutical industry, a major part of the cost is often due to energy and transport needs in order to keep the products under safe condition rather than the production cost itself. In nature many species anatomy actually provide excellent insulation against the elements in terms of thermal isolation but also other types such as filtering membranes against certain contaminants. We should look in species more for answers when it comes to insulation for diverse applications ranging from medicines to the construction industry…

More information: here

What is Biomimetics: the field of gaining inspiration from nature first to solve some of our most difficult challenges. Instead of coming up with our own solutions to a problematic, the odds are that species on the planet already offer an ultimate solution. This simple fact is also another strong case to preserve species at all cost as the intellectual heritage contained within or through the study of species is both irreplaceable and invaluable…

www.biodiversity.sg

Biomimetic file 138: Seashell-Inspired Material leading A New Wave Of Safety Gear In Sport

Seashell-Inspired Material leading A New Wave Of Safety Gear In Sport

Picture source: Andy Alderson

Highlight: “Sheffield Hallam University has been developing improved materials for impact protection in sports. The materials have the fascinating and unusual auxetic property (i.e they expend instead of contracting under shock) that can be used in helmets, pads, guards, gloves, mats and barriers…the inspiration for the current work on auxetic materials for improved impact protection equipment in sports comes from the ultimate natural armour protection system: the humble seashell.”

Insight: Some species in the animal kingdom have highly adapted exoskeletons that not only support their structure but also act as a protective armour against the elements and predators. The combination of light weight and strength are two aspects commonly found in species skeleton structures. The properties in certain species structures (down to the molecular level) such as shrimp shells or oysters  have already led to practical innovations in sectors such as aerospace or construction where the strength/weight ratio of materials is a rising challenge. It is likely that the inspirations for future structures and materials will be found within species…

More information: here

What is Biomimetics: the field of gaining inspiration from nature first to solve some of our most difficult challenges. Instead of coming up with our own solutions to a problematic, the odds are that species on the planet already offer an ultimate solution. This simple fact is also another strong case to preserve species at all cost as the intellectual heritage contained within or through the study of species is both irreplaceable and invaluable…

www.biodiversity.sg

Publication: biodiversity incubators the business case for conservation

See the original post on eco-business: http://www.eco-business.com/opinion/biomimicry-incubators-business-case-conservation/

The business opportunities found in biomimicry – the application of characteristics found in species to human innovation – makes a strong case for biodiversity conservation

biomimicry diagram

Pictures: An extract from Otto Lilienthal’s Mechanics of White Stork flight in his Der Vogelflug als Grundlage der Fliegekunst (1889). Biomimicry is the application of characteristics found in the natural world to innovation for human needs.

Biomimicry refers to the study of species characteristics in order to derive ideas that could serve our everyday applications. More specifically it is the field of gaining inspiration from nature first to solve some of our most difficult challenges. Instead of coming up with our own solutions to a problem, the odds are that species on the planet already offer an ultimate solution.

This simple fact is also another strong case to preserve species at all cost, as the intellectual heritage contained within or through the study of species is both irreplaceable and invaluable. Despite a promising start at the end of the 20th century, the concept hasn’t really been exploited at all to the level it could be: the potential hasn’t been understood.

The analogy between natural and corporate systems

The concept of biomimicry is simple: because species on Earth have been around and evolved for hundreds of millions of years, the adaptations that they have developed over the ages have provided them with ultimate optimization attributes with regards to how they interact with their surrounding conditions.

It therefore makes a lot of sense for corporations and governments to search for answers to a multitude of problems faced in the fields of medicine, engineering, architecture and optimal design, among others, by studying species as it is likely that they hold the answers.

We often acknowledge that time allows for improvement. For instance, in the corporate world, many products such as detergents and air conditioners have slowly improved over time to become more efficient in terms of their usage for a specific purpose, for instance in these particular cases respectively cleaning clothes and cooling the indoor air. We can notice this simple rule in most consumer goods that we buy: products get better over time.

This is also true with species: over time, they become better adapted to their surrounding conditions for the simple reason that if they do not adapt, they end up becoming extinct. It is a simple fact that in an environment free of human interference species constantly compete for survival and this drives adaptive changes pushing for optimisation to surrounding conditions.

In the corporate world, things work in a similar way: agencies gain an advantage by becoming better adapted to the surrounding conditions, which can range from market demand, product design, cost efficiency and other factors, will end up pushing unfit competitors out of business.

The similarities between the natural and business world suggest that nature-inspired business models should be adopted instead of current frameworks which are clearly unfit for current and future challenges ahead. Indeed, the current business and societal models to not anticipate and accommodate well to the world growing problems such as inevitable global climate change and related changes in Earth systems that societies will eventually have to face and adapt to.

The bio-corporation business model

The idea of “bio-corporations” – corporations which will eventually incorporate a biomimicry approach to the continuous improvement process as part of their core business model – is a potential solution for the concept of biomimicry to take off. The idea relies on a progressive approach to biomimicry, first using universities as incubators before spreading the concept to corporations.

The concept is simple: corporations should include a biomimicry department within their business structure. This department would work closely with other departments such as research and development within the business and would act as a central mechanisms for idea generation from which corporate strategic decisions can be derived. The basic framework is highlighted below:

  1. Species  are studied by biologists who are able to identify traits that could benefit the business. The knowledge of biologists will be handy in identifying potential target species, which could have traits relevant to the core business of the organisation.There are now a multitude of good examples of this such as: a shutter resistant windscreen derived from the structure of oysters; new generations of revolutionary computers utilizing neuronal connections inspired from species brain; new types of light and resistant airplane materials derived from the cell structures of a species of shrimp; camouflage materials derived from species of octopus; a synthetic leaf that is able to produce oxygen inspired from species of plants; a range of robots inspired from a variety of species muscle and walking patterns; the bullet train nose inspired from a kingfishers bird beak; a multitude of nature inspired architectures; and many others.
  2. Once these traits have been identified, they are passed on to other applied departments which will then focus their research on incorporating these traits within the products design. Attempts to translate a species’ trait into a commercial idea could involve chemistry, mechanical design, or architectural planning, among others. Products with these traits would increase the business’ competitiveness.

While it might take years of research to achieve the desired product outcome, the chances of success are far greater than the current research approach used by corporations of trying to improve their products through trial and error, reverse engineering of existing products, and market research. There are so many innovative ideas out there in nature that remain unexplored.

In the end biomimicry processes could potentially save significant amounts of money compared to current research and development practices. But most importantly the risk factor is significantly reduced as well.

The reason for this is that the efficiency of traits within species for a specific application is already proven from the fact that species have survived using these well adapted traits for so long. Extracting these traits will save research development time and is likely to be an innovation breakthrough. In fact if we look at most biomimicry inspired applications they attract a lot of attention for being innovative.

Universities as incubators

Universities provide a unique setting to try out this concept as they have all the attributes necessary for success including the research framework and the different faculties that would in fact mimic the corporate structures with their various departments.

Led by the faculty of biology, identified traits of interest within species could easily be passed on to other faculties such as engineering, medical sciences, chemistry, social sciences and others as needed in order to mimic and adapt the traits for commercial industrial applications.

In addition to the above interfaculty framework, established universities also have the right setting to develop and issue patents and in so doing, bridge the gap between the academic and corporate worlds.

It would be much easier to implement such a concept in a university environment than a corporate one because universities have a mandate to innovate in the first place, which is not necessarily commercially driven.

The challenges faced

There are obvious reasons why biomimicry hasn’t really taken off.

Communications issues: Because biomimicry research requires a very close interaction between multidisciplinary teams of biologists, engineers, chemists, mechanical designers, artists, amongst others. The work of these groups of people does not often overlap; sometimes, they may simply not speak the same “language”. A multidisciplinary approach is key to the success of bio-inspired corporations.

Mind-set changes: Business have been operating using the same old industrial age models and hierarchy strategies for so many years that it has become a great challenge to change people’s mind-sets due to the inertia it has engendered. Business leaders who see the potential of biomimicry are the ones who could make a real change, starting with their own enterprise as a showcase and then spreading the concepts and successes for other businesses to follow on.

The revolution has already started

In 2013 an initiative reflecting this mind-set was started with funding from the US National Science Foundation with the aim to study business pioneers which have started to incorporate biodiversity preservation concepts within their business framework..

Bio-inspired corporations are likely to be the next business revolution, but the concept has yet to be taken seriously by business leaders and government decision makers.

by Sylvain Richer de Forges