Biomimetic file 171: Connected Spider-Robots!

How network communication effectiveness is key to projects success

download (1)Image source: Siemens Robotics Lab/Princeton, New Jersey/USA. In information technology, networking* is the construction, design, and use of a network, including the physical (cabling, hub, bridge, switch, router, and so forth), the selection and use of telecommunication protocol and computer software for using and managing the network, and the establishment of operation policies.

Highlight: “researchers at the Princeton, N.J., laboratory of Siemens’ Corporate Technology division have developed a collection of 3D-printing robots resembling large spiders (SISpis). The cybernetic arthropods are designed to operate both independently and cooperatively, working together to fabricate custom objects and assemblies…the machines are engineered for the research, development, and testing of algorithms for fabrication, perception, navigation, and collaboration…The most intriguing aspect of the SiSpis machines is the way they work together. As one example, the printing spiders do not carry any material due to their limited load-bearing capacity. Rather, each arthropod is paired with a “sidekick” robot that carries up to two spools of feedstock…”

Insight: Collaboration is key in any type of innovative work. Robotics have evolved greatly in the last decade or so concurrently with networks and notably the internet as the international platform for inter-connectivity. The merging of the two fields: robotics + networks will continue to see a new breed of devices come out that will slowly change our way of life. The wireless age is definitely here to stay and interconnections between devices is set to increase tremendously.

In business networking is of primary importance particularly when working on large projects with input expertise from around the world. The age of teams being physically present in the same space/location simultaneously to work on a project, despite sometimes still necessary, is coming to an end. Indeed new technologies now allow to work efficiently remotely. The challenge is no longer getting people in physical proximity but to ensure the strength and relevancy of the communication networking tools. As there are now many different platforms available to share information, choosing the most appropriate for a specific project will have fundamental implications on the success rate of that project. Despite common beliefs that every large project always reaches completion because of the significant costs involved, the failure rate of projects is actually high (around 40%)…

Some common examples of the variety of networking tools include:

  • Video-conferencing systems (some are much more reliable than others: working with a system that constantly breaks, has poor sound/video quality is irritating and will affect performance…);
  • Instant messaging applications;
  • File sharing systems (often cloud based platforms);
  • Specialized databases tools;
  • Management tools (it is important that someone keeps track of who is doing what and manages communications between members: a network project manager with the help of a robust system…)

Are you working on a project that requires bringing people remotely together from around the world? If so, perhaps spend some time deciding on the appropriate communication tool(s) to use for this specific project as making the wrong initial choices could escalate to catastrophic failure…

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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Biomimetic file 148: “Submerged Dryness”

Why avoidance rather than confrontation is sometimes a better business alternative


Image: Creative commons. Metal corrosion is the single most problematic issue for offshore and sub-sea developments.

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…

The above point of avoiding contact altogether rather than finding anti-corrosion solutions due to the contact of materials with sea water is inspirational when it comes to business. Indeed, sometimes when confronted with a problem removing the cause of the problem rather than finding a compromise can be a simple solution.

Lets illustrate the above point with the following case study: A well known consulting business is doing extremely well with offices globally. A branch in Jakarta is seeing a fast growing business and the teams operating from this office have become well respected by the clients but also within the global group for their particular expertise in financial risks management. This specific team is headed by a Managing Director to develop the business while the consulting aspects fall under the leadership of a Principal to whom 10 highly experienced staffs have been assigned. One day the Principal who has been in this position for the past five years moves-on with other interests and summits his resignation; pressured to find a replacement rapidly in order to keep the heavy work load of the team alive the MD quickly hires an overseas replacement from the UK external to the company who had prior similar experiences. After about 4 months in the role the MD notices a range of raising issues ranging from poor performances, delayed deliveries and staff problems. After an investigation conducting one-on-one discussions with various team members he soon finds out the source of the problem: The new Principal despite highly qualified for the role  does not integrate with the team at all, obvious communication issues with the team combined with a cultural mismatch leadership style creates tensions. Conscious of the implications and considering the strength of the team assigned to him, the MD after consultation with the COO based in the USA decides to remove the Principal and to re-assign him to the Hong Kong office instead with assignment over a full English proficient team. Thereafter, he promotes a senior manager within the Jakarta team to take over the leadership. In this particular case the source of the problem was very clear and the solution to remove the Principal rather than finding other more complex ways to resolve the situation (e.g. providing language and local culture classes) ended up preventing a disaster.

This removal strategy can however only work under certain circumstances and the following two questions must be asked prior to action:

  • Can the problem be attributed to a single source? Often problems are the result of a combination of factors and it becomes difficult to relate to a single source.
  • If the answer to the above is yes, can the source of the problem be removed without destabilizing the situation/system? While it is sometimes possible to simply remove the source of the problem, often doing so could create instabilities or even greater problems.

Are you encountering a difficult to solve problem? If so, perhaps consider the above avoidance approach but ensure that it is in the first place possible by answering the above simple questions. If a problem can be resolved by avoidance, it is a fast and easy solution that is often simply forgotten as an option…

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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Biomimetic file 139: Refrigerant free vaccines inspired from sea urchins

How to protect critical systems from unavoidable risks

Image source: Clip Art image. A critical system is any system whose ‘failure’ could threaten human life, the system’s environment or the existence of the organisation which operates the system. “Failure” in this context does NOT mean failure to conform to a specification but means any potentially threatening system behaviour

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 initiative 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…

The above insulation capsule example can be applied to business strategy: there are parts of businesses which are crucial to operations and simply cannot afford to be damaged (physical or conceptually). While a robust risk management strategy can be developed by understanding the risks and coming up with measures to reduce them significantly, there is no such thing as zero risks. Therefore, for systems of critical importance, there needs to be additional protection beyond risk management. An effective way is the protective shell approach which implies surrounding the system with a layer that in the event of a failure will take the first hit and is designed to be damaged in such a way as to protect the inner more critical system. In other words such systems need to be designed to fail within safety limits. In some systems this could be a real protective shell (e.g. a simple helmet protecting a cyclist head, a car crash proof design to protect the driver) or a more complex protection for instance a firewall which would protect a more sensitive computer coding from hacking, electromagnetic breach or others…

Lets illustrate the above point with the following case study: A powerful government has developed a military system that can launch ground-to-air missiles from any location in the field. This system is powered by an auxiliary power unit which makes all the systems including  launch, guidance and safety operational; it is without saying that there is no room for error and power failure is not an option.  While detailed safety procedures and complex military style hierarchy are in place to prevent accidental launch of the missiles, there is always the very small probability that something else may happen (e.g. a bird crash lands on the power system). In the event of a hit, or other types of system breach a range of safe proof backups are in place:

  • 3 backup generators all running on different fuel types and in different locations of the unit;
  • In addition to the strong metal outer shell, inner generators are protected by other shells and at least one of them by an iron Kevlar coating, one by a full fire proof coating and another one by a high shock absorbing and waterproof design.
  • In case of a failure of any of the systems an inbuilt programme initiates a safe auto-shutdown procedure which ensures no electrical leak can transmit to the missiles and locks the system.
  • As well as many other in built backups

Are you managing critical systems that cannot afford failure? If so, perhaps consider the protective shell approach and remember that no matter how good a risk management strategy is there is always the possibility of an unforeseen failure that requires a backup plan…

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…

bluestrike logo

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…

Publication: biodiversity incubators the business case for conservation

See the original post on eco-business:

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