# Biomimetic file 209: Complexity in Simplicity

## Why seemingly simple aspects can in fact be extremely complex and how to handle such situations

Image: creative commons. In number theory, Fermat’s Last Theorem* (sometimes called Fermat’s conjecture) states that no three positive integers a, b, and c satisfy the equation an + bn = cn for any integer value of n greater than 2. The cases n = 1 and n = 2 have been known to have infinitely many solutions since antiquity.

Highlight: “Fish exhibit extremely high propulsive efficiency and excellent maneuverability. Designers are looking to exploit these traits by mimicking fish motion. A prototype robotic fish has been developed at The University of Auckland modeled on the carangiform mode of swimming…the algorithms involved in such motion control are complex as they have to deal with highly dynamic systems…”

Insight: Fermat’s last theorem appears at first sight to be simple especially compared with much more complex equations commonly used in mathematics or physics. Yet, this seemingly simple expression has for long been considered one of mathematics most complex problems. As matter of fact, the first successful proof was only released in 1994 by Andrew Wiles, and formally published in 1995, after 358 years of effort by mathematicians!

Often businesses are faced with similar situations where the complexity of a situation is underestimated. Underestimating a problem can have severe consequences for different reasons such as logistics, safety or budgeting.

For instance lets illustrate this point with the following situation: An airplane manufacturer is about to release a larger than usual aircraft to the mass market. After over ten years of intense preparations, complex problems solving and state of the art engineering the product is finally ready and the entire team is finalizing basic logistics. During one of the meetings the procedure of bringing some parts manufactured in other locations to the main assembly site is raised: the main fuselage, which is rather large comes in one single piece and is too big to fit in specialized planes normally used for the transport of smaller planes fuselage parts. Because of this, the only way to bring in the fuselage is by road or train. The team manager, not seeming too worry about it, asks the simple question of whether the dimensions of the fuselage would allow to bring it by road. After some detail analysis the answer comes out as a yes but with extremely tight error margins at some points which raises concerns from various members of the team. The manager more worried of having to announce further delays to the direction takes it as feasible and as a minor problem. After the first orders start to come in, the process of assembly starts and the fuselage is brought in as planned by road; this is when the realization that the problem was not so simple starts to kick-in through a range of unforeseen issues:

• At some stages the fuselage must pass trough a small village and the margin or error (the distance between the fuselage and road side buildings) in turns is less than 10cm! A few safety misses occur and any bump to the fuselage would have serious repercussions as detailed inspections for safety would be required. To prevent this from happening a team of experts must also supervise the operations at all time which is rather costly;
• Due to the size and sensitivity of the delivery the entire stretch of road must be closed to traffic and therefore can only be done late at night as it is a national road. Villagers complain of noise issues and other disturbances;
• The road is not meant to carry such a weight and shortly after these operations begin, the pavement starts to crack which requires maintenance. The department authorities complain that they shouldn’t be the ones paying for the repair costs;
• It takes longer to deliver due to the complexity of the process which requires to operate at very low speeds;
• and many other issues which add on…

In the end the mounting problems force the company to finance the construction of a specially designed road to go around the village, that’s over 6 miles of road. The cost of this “little problem” ends up amounting to USD 450 millions!

Are you faced with certain obstacles going forward? If so, perhaps take the time to properly estimate the complexity of these problems as failure to do so could have serious and costly consequences on your project…

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.bluestrike-group.com

# Biomimetic file 199: Metamorphosis

## Why undertaking a major business transformation is becoming a necessity

Picture: Kingofwalpapers. Metamorphosis* is a biological process by which an animal physically develops after birth or hatching, involving a conspicuous and relatively abrupt change in the animal’s body structure through cell growth and differentiation.

Highlight: “Locomotion ability, efficiency and reliability are key targets for a good robot…The linkage mechanism for robot locomotion is a discontinuous-constraint metamorphic* mechanism…Inspired by controlling strategy of the motor nervous system in peripheral vertebrae to the locomotion, researchers have developed complex mathematical algorithms to improve robot motor control and drive strategies…”

Insight: Never has the business landscape been so unpredictable as it is now considering the fact that businesses are facing multiple threats ranging from political instabilities, disruptive trends (e.g. the rise of robotics, 3D printing, online based services…) or mounting environmental pressures translating to stronger regulations. All these add-up to tremendous pressures put on businesses to drastically change their medium to long term strategies; it is no longer a matter of choice but an absolute necessity if a business is to sustain throughout the century.

Moving forward and drastically changing directions is not an easy decision to be made by companies as the outcome could be ultimately catastrophic if the wrong analysis is made and the transition is not managed adequately. The below are key points to consider:

• ensuring the analysis and predictions are robust and reflect the reality (there is nothing worst than to base a change strategy on wrong initial assumptions);
• ensuring the change will benefit the business (and not the other way);
• ensuring a progressive transition;
• ensuring the change strategy actually reflect the threats faced;

Are you concerned about the present and future trends on your business?  If so, perhaps be proactive in keeping-up with the rapidly evolving landscape and plan a change strategy for the medium to long term. As with a butterfly hatching from its cocoon, a proper business transformation will reflect three distinct phases:

• Unchanged phase: the business appears to look good but it is in fact unfit for the changes to come;
• Changing phase: The business may seem dull or facing difficulties when it fact it is getting a defense ready (apparent chaos is a sign of change, this phase must be closely monitored and managed. It is also wise to inform the stakeholders that the business is undergoing a transformation which is usually quite well received if communicated well);
• Changed phase: A new business arises which, if successful,  looks much better than the initial one in terms of fitness and market competitiveness.

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…

http://www.bluestrike-group.com/

# Biomimetic file 122: tree-like wind turbines

## Why aesthetics can be as important as systems performance

photo credit: NewWind. Aesthetics*  is a branch of philosophy that explores the nature of art, beauty, and taste, with the creation and appreciation of beauty.

Highlight: “One of the biggest criticisms against wind turbines is that they aren’t usually nice to look at, but that may be about to change thanks to the French company NewWind. Their new device, Tree Vent, is an array of vertical wind turbines that look a lot like a tree…”

Insight: The potential to harvest energy from the wind is proven, however the aesthetics of the systems are slowing the deployments of turbines especially in urban environments. Gaining inspiration from nature to design better integrated and more appealing systems is a good start. In this context, the other important element to consider is the potential to harvest wind energy in low wind and variable conditions, which are typically found in cities. While it doesn’t make sense to install large scale turbines in this type of setting, the implementation of many small scale turbines, for instance on rooftops, is actually a viable solution to feed in to local electrical grids. Friction has been a major step-back for low energy turbines; the input of technology such as the use of supra-conductors to levitate moving parts could allow to remove most friction.

In business, product aesthetics* can be very important when it comes to the sales success rates and surprisingly sometimes even more than the actual performance of the product. As a general rule if the product is somehow exposed to the public (some systems are not intended to be exposed, for instance industrial fans…) a strong design element should be incorporated in order to maximize the success sale rate of that product…

Lets illustrate the above point with the following case study: Two competing companies are in the business of heaters for home and industrial usage in cold climates. Company A and company B are about the same size and offer a very similar range of products. A trendy in-demand product has to do with boilers for home usage that provide hot water for showering but also the hot water system to heat the indoor space. Company A comes up with the most efficient product on the market in terms of energy efficiency that works on diesel. While being extremely efficient, the company does not pay much attention the the aesthetic of the product which ends up looking quite bulky, old fashion, with exposed metal panels covering the heating elements, and manual gauges (the needle type). On the other hand, company B comes up with a not as efficient product but they spend a lot more time and resources on the aesthetic of their product which ends up looking futuristic (curved edged, full digital displays, painted panels, glass elements…). Once the two products hit the market it becomes clear that company B quickly becomes the winner by taking the biggest share of the market. Disappointed that their more efficient product is not doing better sales, company A’s management finds out the hard way that they have failed to appeal to the consumers who in the end prefer slightly less efficient but a better looking system even though it is intended to be installed in their garage! After making this realization on the importance of consumer psychology even in their business line, company A decides to open a new design department which is costly and has a lot to catch up to meet the standards of their competitor; in other words the company has fallen behind because of this late realization…

Are you looking to release a new product that is exposed for people to see? If so, remember that it is important to aim for the highest performance but also to look at ways to work on the design so that it appeals to consumers aesthetic preferences as well no matter what the product is…

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.bluestrike-group.com

# Biomimetic files 119 scientists make DNA wires that carry electric current

## Why diversifying the use of a process can lead to greater competitiveness

Photo credit: ynse, “DNA Rendering,” via Flickr. CC BY-SA 2.0. Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) is a molecule that carries the genetic instructions used in the growth, development, functioning and reproduction of all known living organisms

Highlight: “DNA, the molecule at the heart of life, is the most powerful and sophisticated information storage device in existence. So it’s no wonder that scientists are attempting to harness its capabilities in computing and electronics. Not only does DNA have the capacity to store vast amounts of data, but it also provides the opportunity to surpass current limitations on reducing the size of electronics…Researchers have found a way to use DNA strands as a replacement for electrical wires…”

Insight: since its discovery the applications of DNA for human benefits have been amazing, ranging from genome technology to structural design (e.g elements such as buildings staircases have been inspired from DNA double helix shape). Contrary to common belief the molecule still has much to offer in terms of knowledge and applications.

One of the particularly interesting aspects of DNA is its 4 base coding mechanisms as opposed to current computers binomial (2 base) coding. Research on the next generation of super computers using a 4 base coding is under way and if successful will lead to tremendous increase in computer power and storage capabilities. Going beyond this, it now seems that the structure of DNA itself is also prone to transmitting electrical currents more effectively and able to make electronic circuits a fraction of the size of what is currently available. This latest discovery is a significant step forward in technology as many of the current electronic devices are simply reaching physical capacity: we cannot make them any smaller than they already are.

While DNA is perhaps the most famous of all molecules there are many others that remain to be discovered and studied. However, as species become extinct so is this incredible database of molecules that goes with them along with potential technological breakthroughs.

The above point of taking something known for a specific usage (DNA as information support) and finding a completely different usage (DNA as an electricity conductor) is inspirational when it comes to business philosophy. Indeed, companies are often trapped with preset ideas that certain things or processes must only be used for specific applications. However, a different mindset of re-thinking the use of common applications can actually lead to innovations and significant savings…

Lets illustrate the above statement with the following case study: a diversified IT company is also in the growing business of smart phones. While already at the forefront of technology and design in the field, they have fix themselves a challenge for their new product release. The challenge consist of making the phone even more compact than its previous version while at the same time improving functionalities. The highly experienced engineering team gets to work and after much trials comes up with a great idea: in the previous version, the antenna element of the phone occupied a significant portion of the inside which if eliminated could create space for flattening the device further. The great innovation comes from the realization that the protective casing of the phone is actually a conductor and with the appropriate redesign could also serve as an antenna. Focused on this idea of combining both casing and the antenna, the team finds the right design and the new product becomes a hit worldwide. By having taken something no one else would have considered to have another use than what it has always been used for (a casing) this company has converted it into an antenna and because of this innovative dual usage saved space and cost…

Are you struggling to find ways to innovate or improve your products or processes? If so, perhaps ask yourself if there are any parts that could be used for a complete different application than what the expectations are. Th element of surprise often drives compassion and interest…