# 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 far 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 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 163: machinery in nature

## Why doubting ones creativity is increasingly a necessity

Picture source: Malcolm Burrows. A part of the physiology of the legs of Issus insects look exactly like a mechanical gear that one would see in rotating machinery.

Highlight: “The practice of engineering items based on forms found in nature (biomimetics) has been ongoing- it is however less common to discover things in nature that were thought to be human invention. Some insects look like living machinery, as their joints look more like something manufactured by man…Recently it was discovered that the Issus, a small plant hopping insect, has a biological gear. This is the first time anyone has discovered a natural gear…The Issus is only 2 mm long and when it jumps it reaches forces of 400 g’s, which is about 20 times the maximum a human can endure…”

Insight: Real innovations are rather rare nowadays. It is quite common in modern society to come with an idea and to think it is new when in fact it has already been thought of. Often successful products or services are not based on new findings, it is just that they have succeeded in exploiting an existing concept to fit with current societal needs. We should not confuse concepts with concepts engineering…

A good and very common example has to do with naming newly set companies or products. As an illustration lets imagine that a marketing team of an American shoe company meets up to discuss the name of their new product: “The Cheetah”. All agree that it is a great name that perfectly portrays their product colors, looks and functions and that the association with speed will appeal to the sport consumers. Very proud of their creation, the team manager jumps out of the office to inform the Chief Marketing Officer which happens to be meeting with the CEO. Busy with production issues the two quickly agree to launch the campaign assuming that standard product launch procedures were followed. Little did the CMO know that the team did not do their due diligence well enough in researching similarities with global competitors and unfortunately It appears that a small startup company in Kenya had released a sport shoe with the same name 6 months earlier and that the brand was spreading fast on the African market. It did not take long for this African company to come across the marketing campaign of the American product and notice the odd similarity. Jumping on the occasion, the African company lawyers file a case of copyright infringement which they win without much difficulties. This error ends up costing the American company USD150 millions in settlement…

Remember that we live in an increasingly “flat”world with a population of 7 billion individuals or so. Keeping this in mind, the likelihood of someone having thought of the same thing, no matter what the matter, is actually quite high…

Have you come up with great ideas/concepts recently? If so, perhaps do not rush too fast in claiming your creativity and take the time to do a proper background check to see potential similarities or even an exact match. This simple exercise may save you a lot of troubles at a later stage…

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…

http://www.bluestrike-group.com

# Biomimetic file 160: Oceanic Bio-inspired Turbines

## Why a different way of thinking is required to generate an innovation breakthrough

Image source: BioPower Systems. A breakthrough*: an important discovery or event that helps to improve a situation or provide an answer to a problem.

Highlight: “A wave power unit inspired by the way kelp strands sway with the ocean’s flow has been installed off Port Fairy, Australia. Wave power is still in the development stage with multiple, very different designs jostling to prove themselves as the prospect most deserving of mass production. The installation of Sydney-based company BioPower’s design, known as the bioWAVE, represents the arrival of a new, and radically different, contender…”

Insight: It often takes a radical different way of thinking to move forward. Societies improvement seem to follow a nonlinear pattern by which an innovative idea rises and eventually succeeds; it is then copied and slowly improved overtime until an innovative contender initiates a new cycle.

Renewable energies have been “stuck” for some time in the improvement phase and it is time for radical innovations to move ahead rapidly. Indeed, while typical solar and wind energies have improved significantly in efficiency over the last decade or so, the basic ideas used to capture the energy have made little progress. At the end of the day radical thinking is key to progress, it is just that some ideas succeed at gaining societal acceptation (which leads to business success) while others don’t…

While idea generation is a complex process that sometimes just comes from chance/inspiration, a framework can be set to help the process: basically it requires asking oneself some simple questions:

• Is the conventional approach the only way to reach the desired outcomes? Can I think of anything else?
• Is this new way (if any) feasible (technologically and financially)?
• Is my idea innovative at all (has it been done before)?
• How to start and progressively aim for that goal?

The great thing about biomimetics is that it is a good way to put the above framework into application, especially the idea generation part. Indeed, nature offers countless examples of processes which can inspire applications that benefit us and the best thing is that it is still virtually untapped which also means that nature inspired designs are almost always innovative (at least for now)…

Are you planning to release a product/service? If so, perhaps ask yourself the above questions and see if you want to go the mainstream way or perhaps be a bit more daring an try the innovative way. However, keep in mind that the innovative path is often associated with greater risks but if successful the returns will be greater and more satisfying…

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 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 file 120: harvesting energy from body artery pressure!

## How to capture inner-corporate power

Photo credit: Naomi Kizhner. As blood is pumped out of the left ventricle into the aorta and distributing arteries, pressure is generated.  The mean arterial pressure (MAP) is determined by the cardiac output (CO), systemic vascular resistance (SVR), and central venous pressure (CVP) according to the following relationship, which is based upon the relationship between flow, pressure and resistance: Eq. 1: MAP = (CO × SVR) + CVP

highlight: “Naomi Kizhner, an industrial designer and graduate student from Hadassah College in Jerusalem, has designed jewelry that theoretically extracts energy from the wearers own body. The ‘speculative’ jewelry is embedded into the person’s veins and uses their blood to turn small wheels inside the device… ”

Insight: I wouldn’t actually categorize this as a good example of biomimicry as it is more a combination of technology with biological systems, however the idea is very interesting and could be developed to utilize bio-mimicry principles for instance by studying artery patterns of selected species in order to maximize the efficiency.

The idea to produce energy using our own body is a fantastic one; Indeed our body generates non-negligible amounts of energy should it be through normal motion (e.g. walking or simple regular body movements) or internal organ systems. This energy is simply wasted when in fact it could be re-captured and utilized to power small devices like smart phones or even bigger machines. Sufficient energy could be produced using efficient and well designed micro-turbines connected to our arteries. Perhaps adapting the technology to make it smaller and hidden below the skin as an implant like a heart control battery could be the start of a revolution of human body powered systems?

The above point of exploiting inner body power is inspirational as a business philosophy. We often hear that employees are a corporations most valuable asset but few company’s actually seem to understand that. Indeed, employees are not only an asset to individually deliver the tasks they were employed to do but as a team, the workforce within corporation is a powerful source of innovation in itself should the direction know how to get the best out of it.

Lets illustrate the above point with the following case study: a Tech company is faced with an important problem, they are trying to reach out to a younger market for one of their latest products which translates a piece of text into an emotion (e.g. “the writer of this text is happy”) based on the analysis of punctuation, text structures and other indicators. While well received by the business sector, so far the initiative has failed to reach the youngster considered a big market. After failing to gain much insight from outsourcing strategies, the management decides to turn back to their own company and capture ideas from their many talents. The problem is thrown to the workforce as a challenge inciting employees to act as small teams (no ore than 5 people) and to provide practical solutions on how to reach the market. The response is overwhelming and over 15 teams are created. After three months the company starts judging the entries through a first round of selection based on documents submissions followed by a second round of presentations for the finalists. One of the team comes up with a great App idea that brings the system to the hands of youngsters using an appropriate display that can also be used with instant messaging applications. The team is well rewarded and the company takes the opportunity to remind the workforce of their value to the company….

Are you faced with a problem you don’t feel has reached a satisfactory solution through outsourcing? If so, perhaps consider tapping onto your own workforce as well, even if the scope does not fall within the normal operational tasks, you may be surprised of the outcome and it is a great way to connect and motivate…

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

## How 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 (not difficult to guess which one) 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…

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 114: Muscle Powered Biorobots

## Why it is important to merge expertise

photo credit: Janet Sinn-Hanlon, Design Group@VetMed.

Highlight: “Researchers from the University of Illinois have produced a new generation of muscle-powered biological robots, or “bio-bots,” that can be stimulated to walk using electrical impulses. These robots not only represent a significant advancement in the field of soft biorobotics, but they may also eventually have uses in a variety of applications including drug screening and delivery systems…”

Insight: While copying natural systems is a field only at its earliest stage, sometimes utilizing biological systems within engineered structures can also lead to interesting outcomes. Mimicking natural processes or systems is often underestimated in terms of its complexity. Even simple systems that are omnipresent in our surrounding environment (e.g. photosynthesis) are actually extremely difficult to replicate given our current technologies. While there are some success stories utilizing engineering practices, such replications are often under-performing the natural systems.

Another approach to bio-mimicry is a hybrid concept through which systems judged too complex to replicate are actually combined with artificial engineered processes. This synergy is starting to show successful applications. For instance researchers after years of trials are now able to isolate specific synaptic electrical signals emitted by the human brain to send orders to artificial prostheses.  This technology makes artificial body parts control such as a hand or a leg possible with direct input from the brain.

In our current state of technological advancements we are simply unable to replicate many relatively simple natural processes which still outsmart our abilities. Until such capabilities are met perhaps a faster way of advancement in the field of bio-mimicry would be the hybrid approach. We tend to pride ourselves through our technological breakthroughs as an advanced society but if we start to compare our capabilities with what nature provides all around in our environment we then come to the simple realization that we are actually not so advanced at all..

The above case study of combining two fields (robotics) with a living system (a muscle) is inspirational when it comes to business philosophy. Indeed, some of the greatest breakthroughs in technologies rarely happen in one particular field but at the merger of several fields. This is why multidisciplinary teams are so important in terms of providing environments that fuel innovation…

Lets illustrate the above point with the following case study: A US 5 billion dollars mega project in the UAE has launched an international appeal for the best design of a future landmark building to be located in an exclusive location on top of an artificial island. The judges are seeking “something out of this world” as stated on the project scope. Many leading architectural firms are keen to take on the challenge and the project sees over 50 entries. While all are traditional architectural firms mostly employing architects, one of them has been increasingly noticed for its unique approach of combining architecture with other fields. In order to achieve this, the company proud itself of having the most diverse workforce in the industry comprising not only architects but also, engineers, biologists, designers, artists and many more. In the end, of all the finalist this particular firm has the most innovative idea with a building concept that seems to defy the laws of gravity, design and has managed to integrate never seen systems. This unique structure is a result of the expertise of the diverse team which have included touches from various disciplines in all aspects of the project. By merging their respective expertise to achieve a single goal they were able to come up with a fresh new concept.

Are you seeking to achieve an innovative breakthrough? If so, perhaps consider diversifying your workforce to gain different opinions and perspective which when put together can result in greater outcome…