Biomimetic file 184: Surface Tension

How to overcome obstacles with minimal risks

1robot_closeupImage source: Seoul National University. Surface tension*: The cohesive forces among liquid molecules are responsible for this phenomenon. In the bulk of the liquid, each molecule is pulled equally in every direction by neighboring liquid molecules, resulting in a net force of zero.

Highlight: “a group of engineers, led by a researcher at the Seoul National University, have just created a machine that can jump on water…the engineers studied the mechanics behind the Water Strider, an insect that can easily jump upwards from a pond. It’s an ability that’s poorly understood in insects in general…The trick, according to an analysis of a high-speed film of Water Striders, is to push down on the water with the maximum velocity that the surface tension can take. The further the insect’s leg pushes down, the greater the surface tension that builds under the leg and the better the upward jump. But if the leg pushes too far, the meniscus—the curved water surface—can’t take it and gives way, allowing the leg to sink…it’s necessary to find the optimal balance: push down hard enough to make maximum use of the surface tension, but not so hard that you rupture it…”

Insight: The water tension analogy is an inspiring business philosophy: The faster an obstacle tries to break the water surface the more difficult it is to go through it; as a matter of fact hitting water at high speeds is similar to trying to go through a concrete wall and a guarantied catastrophic outcome.

Is there something blocking you from moving ahead? If so, perhaps consider a slower well-thought pass-through rather than trying to rush. A slower path is often associated with significantly lesser risks than fast aggressive actions. However, rushing through is always an option and sometimes succeeds (not without risks);

The point to retain here is that if one goes too fast, beyond a certain threshold point, than the failure rate increases sharply…

breakeven-diagramDiagram: Economic models follow similar trends: if you try to go too fast in trying to reach the financial break-even point by pushing aspects such as initial cost benchmark, the sales are likely to collapse. It is all about finding the right balance between time and cost…

The adequate planning of the completion speed of any project (time management) is crucially important in its success rate. It can be really tricky to find the right balance that will keep a project on the track of a successful completion. The reality is that in life some situations are subject to risk taking while avoidance is the norm. Which path would you choose?

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 182: Ripple Effect

How anticipating change can minimize business risks

water-drop-ripple-wallpaper-2Image source: pcwallart.com.

Highlight:”Researchers at UC San Diego have revealed a new mode of propulsion based on how water snails create ripples of slime to crawl upside down beneath the surface!…that explains how and why water snails can drag themselves across a fluid surface that they can’t even grip…The main finding is that soft surfaces, such as the free surface of a pond or a lake, can be distorted by applying forces; these distortions can be exploited to generate propulsive forces and move…the secret is in the slime…”

Insight: If one drops a mass in a steady lake, it is easy to visualize the ripples. With a bit of practice one can even anticipate the patterns that will result from the interaction that the ripples have with the shore or other obstacles. On the other hand, if you drop the same mass in the open dynamic ocean, the waves, the wind and other factors will make it significantly more difficult, if not impossible, to observe and predict these ripples…

The philosophy in this simple observation is interesting when applied to business: if you are going to implement drastic changes in an organisation it is wiser to do so during times of stability. If one waits for a period of crisis (e.g. a financial downturn, a political unrest or simply internal difficulties) to apply drastic changes, it will be more difficult to predict the impacts resulting from these changes and therefore they will be associated with a high risk factor…

Entropy is a measure of instability in natural systems, the more systems are  disturbed the more chaotic the outcomes, it is a universal principle with fundamental implications in the behaviors of the systems that surround us.

Are you planing significant changes in your business? If so, perhaps do so in times where things seem too good to disturb anything…

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

Biomimetic file 181: Electronics Fungal Processing

How changing the form of a problem can lead the path to business solutions

big_thumb_57cdd9b81573a02e5c5540ac4b26ac9cPicture source: stockfreeimages.com  

Highlight: “The American Chemical Society has revealed how fungi can extract valuable materials from batteries that would otherwise go to waste…The batteries in smartphones and laptops, particularly the cathodes, contain a lot of lithium and cobalt. Methods exist to recycle these elements, but they are currently more expensive than mining new material… Consequently, a lot of old phones end up in landfill, while Earth’s reserves are depleted. Without recycling, cobalt shortages, in particular, could represent a limitation on battery production and the shift to clean energy…Professors at the University of South Florida, have put three species of fungi to work, drawing on the chemicals they release to extract metals at an affordable price…Batteries are too solid for the fungi to get at them without assistance, so the team dismantled the battery and pulverized the cathodes… This is a cheap process compared to the high-temperature activity currently required. Then the fungis’ organic acids go to work…”

Insight:  In this particular battery recycling case using Fungi, in order for the process to effectively work the cathodes have first to be pulverized and turned into powder form. It is the same product which presented into a different form allows the key process to work…

An important lesson can be learn from this process: when faced with seemingly unsolvable situations, sometimes all it takes is to reshuffle the problem and to find a different way to tackle it. Presenting the same problem differently can often reveal a hidden path towards a solution; it is a simple statement with yet fundamental implications in business and personal life.

The art of knowing when to reshuffle is one that is key both in solution solving and in time management. Are you stuck with a problem? If so, perhaps consider looking at it from a different perspective…

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

Biomimetic file 179: auxiliary power

How positive momentum can be captured to improve business effectiveness

maxresdefaultImage source: creative commons. Auxiliary*: providing supplementary or additional help and support

Highlight: “By combining the mouth muscle from a sea slug with 3D-printed components, researchers have managed to build a biohybrid robot that is able to move with remarkable accuracy and do unusual tasks …The mixture of living tissue and man-made parts is a sector moving into its own…The muscle from the sea slug is controlled by an external electric field, which should mean that in the future scores of the roboslugs could be released to carry out tasks such as locating toxic leaks or even searching the ocean floor for black box data recorders from crashed planes, outlasting conventional robots that would run out of battery before the task is complete…beyond the cellular structure being used in the hybrid robot, the particular motion of sea slugs is of interest…”

Insight: When talking about motion it is most often referring to primary thrust but there is another type being left behind called “auxiliary*”. The principle is simple and intends to make use of the primary thrust in order to generate further thrust that make the overall process even more efficient.

A good example would be types of engines used on certain planes, such as an old DC10, where the third engine mounted on the tail is only capturing the energy generated from the two other wing primary engines to generate additional power and gain efficiency.

Swimming sea slugs have a very different way of using auxiliary motion whereby an initial thrust generated by muscle power spreads like a wave throughout its body and is amplified by specialized muscles until it exits, the water pushed in the process  generates the thrust.

There are many situations where part of the energy generated is wasted when it could be amplified with such auxiliary principle and nature offers many good examples of optimization.

Drawing from the auxiliary power analogy, a simple point can be made here: when a favorable situation presents itself, it can be leveraged to get an even greater positive outcome (in other words exploit productive situations to their full potentials as it may take a while to have another shot). By learning to identify hidden opportunities in the surrendering environment, one can maximize the outcomes beyond the expectations; it is an art that can be mastered with surprising results…

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

Biomimetic File 178: Spider Silk Armor

Why sometimes AB is a better option than A or B

extra_large-1468857450-cover-imageImage Source: Matusiac Alexandru, Shutterstock. From a legal point of view, a merger* is a legal consolidation of two entities into one entity, whereas an acquisition occurs when one entity takes ownership of another entity’s stock, equity interests or assets.

Highlight: “The US Army is working with companies to develop a new resistant material…possibly the far superior successor to Kevlar, the bulletproof, life-saving material worn by combatants the world over – and it is made from spider silk, one of the strongest natural fibers known to science…Although spiders themselves normally produce this, making a cost-effective spider silk farm is notoriously difficult. After all, they don’t continuously produce silk, and certainly not enough to be harvested…Their transgenic silkworms have been producing a composite silk – as strong as spider silk but far easier to produce…The main advantage of this material over Kevlar is that it’s far more flexible and at least 10 times as elastic. Kevlar is essentially inflexible, whereas Dragon Silk could be wrapped around a variety of complex shapes.”

Insight: The process of deciding where to draw the line in terms of cultivating natural systems or shifting to re-engineered processes can be difficult. Both can offer significant advantages over the other such as cost effectiveness by relying on species do do the work or consistency in output of the engineered product (e.g. precise consistent dimension). The answer is probably a combination of the two; the future of manufacturing relies in more dependency on natural systems combined with engineered elements to improve upon the natural processes (and not to replace it altogether!). As a matter of fact, the full replacement of natural systems by engineered processes is often (if not always) an exaggerated simplification.

In more conventional business models it is not uncommon that situations require either a split or a merger. Both can have benefits over the other but in the end a merger is often synonymous to more stability and lesser risks.

For instance lets imagine the following scenario: A large industrial group in the life sciences industry has ambitious plans to expend its portfolio. For some time they have been on the look-out for two possible acquisitions of smaller companies, one in the DNA sequencers production and the other in the gene therapy and diagnostic. While the original plan was to acquire either one of them, after much consideration they decide that both are worth the investments. After successful acquisition of these two companies the direction is faced with another decision: to either keep them as two separate companies or to merge* the two into a single new company.  The merging of the two offers a stronger offering in terms of logistics (the sequencers are an integral part of the gene therapy business) and competitive advantage while keeping them as separate entities offers more freedom to operate, flexibility and more focus on individual business lines. In this particular case because of the geographical proximity of the two companies the decision was a merger which turned out financially beneficial…

Are you faced with a decision that would involve choosing two outcomes? A point to make here is that when faced with confusion, often the solution is neither A or B but a combination AB of some kind…

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…

bluestrike logo

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

Biomimetic file 177: Cyborg Stingray & Soft Robotic Breakthroughs

Why scaling without adjustments leads to greater risks

content-1467975463-eye-stingray-1280pxImage source: Karaghen Hudson and Michael Rosnach 

Highlight: “Scientists have built a cyborg stingray that swims around using solar-powered heart cells!… From futuristic medical devices to synthetic animals, this coin-sized critter has plenty of potential..Technically known as a “soft robot”, it is comprised of a gold skeleton that is coated with a highly flexible polymer, which is a proxy for a real stingray’s “skin”… Its internal muscles are made of 200,000 genetically-engineered, light-sensitive rat heart cells known as photo-voltaic cardiomyocytes…when these layered cells are exposed to light, they are briefly charged and they contract. This causes the polymer skin to move inwards, which allows the cyborg to swim…”

Insight: Soft robotics and its enormous potential has already been addressed in previous posts of this blog. However, what is additionally interesting to mention about this particular case study is the breakthrough of using controlled motion that combines inert with living systems.

A problem that often arises with motion is the element of scale, powering lets say a human sized object and one that is a few centimeters or even millimeters in size is a very different ball game, not to mention when we start getting into even smaller scales at the cellular or atomic levels. Yet, recently solutions to provide controlled motion even within these ranges has been slowly making successful progress.

A point to make here that applies in many life situations, should it be engineering or management projects, is that scale is often an important parameter that needs to be kept in mind and that requires a customized approach. Often this is underestimated and the common approach of scaling-up without appropriate adjustments or transformations can lead to catastrophic outcomes; in other words, it is not because something works at a smaller scale that it will necessarily (there are exceptions) work on a bigger scale and vice versa…

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

Biomimetic file 175: atmospheric water harvesting

How decentralization can lead to lesser risks

086_GR_Functional_150319_WP_04-01

Image source: Warka Water 

Highlight: “in Ethiopia, only 44% of the general population can access safe drinking water. As well as the serious hydration problems, a lack of clean water and sanitation leads to the rapid spread of a range of diseases, which are responsible for over 200,000 deaths annually. Warka Water is a project that aims to partly tackle this challenge in rural areas taking inspiration from the water gathering strategies of nature in desert areas…Designed as a tool that can capture water from the air, Warka Water (WW) is a piece of architecture, which is particularly effective when placed in detached mountainous areas, where conventional pipelines and wells are not an option… A vertical and portable structure, WW takes advantage of the water contained in air collecting an estimated 100 litres of clean drinking water every day through rain, fog and dew…”

Insight: Water, one of the simplest of molecules and yet so important to life; People who have lived in sub-Saharan Africa would know its value more than anyone. Indeed, in such arid environments every drop is valuable and wasting it is unthinkable. Yet, in modern societies the resource is wasted like no other. Among other water issues, we tend to forget that the water that we use in cities is closely linked to energy (e.g desalination process).

Rather than relying so much on energy intense processes, perhaps more emphasis should be put on passive ways to harvest fresh water and nature provides multiple sources of inspiration for that. While such practices are likely to be far less efficient than the ones which input energy, the element of scale and low cost production should be of interest.

The business point here is that decentralized large scale/low cost systems could well be a much better development plan than centralized small/high cost models currently in operations. Making use of cities buildings rooftops could be a good starting 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 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…

bluestrike logo

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

Biomimetic file 174: Bacteriological Storage

Why planning ahead is important to avoid reaching the critical saturation point

content-1465829651-shutterstock-149312621Image: anyaivanova/Shutterstock.  Colonies of bacteria. The critical saturation point* is here defined by the point beyond which an activity/service/business can no longer be sustained because the very core on which it depends has reached its limit.

Highlight:“as revealed in a new paper in Science, colonies of bacteria have been converted into information-storing critters – or, to put it another way, biological hard drives…this new technique is able to encode roughly 100 bytes of data, a 73-fold increase in storage capacity…Rather than synthesizing DNA and cutting it into a living cell, the study wanted to know if it was possible to use nature’s own methods to write directly onto the genome of a bacterial cell…This way, if the bacterium replicated as it normally would, the information would be copied down through the generation. When this data is stored in a hard drive that could theoretically keep increasing in size over time, scientists could read it by examining its genome any time they wished, using any of the bacteria in the colony…”

Insight: The future of information storage will depend on biological systems and a good reason for that relies on the fact that we are simply reaching physical capacity of many materials currently in use for storage devices. This means that we can no longer (or at least not much longer) miniaturize and/or improve storage capacity due to the properties of the elements.

A recent study came up with the chocking discovery that we could in fact store the entire data generated by our civilization to date (and that is a lot of information!) in a single drop of fluid containing strands of DNA. If we put this point into the current context of the hundreds or thousands of major data centers around the world and the enormous amount of energy being used to power them, that offers a lot of hope not just in terms of storage capacity but also sustainable development.

There is only so much that conventional technology can achieve towards improving current systems and many of them are heading towards their limits. It appears evident that natural systems are an unavoidable part of the solutions going forward in what could be seen as a fifth revolution…

In business, favorable situations are rarely to last and determining the saturation point can be a difficult but a necessary exercise. Large scale examples would include aspects such as natural resources on which many businesses depend entirely (e.g. oil reserves, various metals…). While some companies would spend fortunes trying to assess this critical point in order to know until when the business can continue to operate without major restructuring, smaller issues for many companies are usually not dealt with the same level of concern resulting in simply not knowing where the critical saturation points stands…

Examples of processes and aspects which may be reaching a problematic saturation point:

  • Microprocessors and their processing power;
  • Fiber-optics and their ability to transport a certain amount of data;
  • Binomial computer codes;
  • Certain highways and their ability to take-in traffic effectively;
  • Batteries and their ability to handle heat;

Does your business deal with certain elements that are prone to reach their limits? If so, perhaps ensure to know (or a least try to better understand) where the critical saturation point stands and meanwhile prepare an alternative plan to take over once this point is about to be reached….

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…

bluestrike logo

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

Biomimetic file 173: Bionic leaf 2.0

Why multidisciplinary teams is a key success factor leading to innovation

231667432-bionic-leaf_6

Image source: Harvard University. Photosynthesis*: is a process used by plants and other organisms to convert light energy into chemical energy that can later be released to fuel the organisms’ activities (energy transformation). This chemical energy is stored in carbohydrate molecules, such as sugars, which are synthesized from carbon dioxide and water. The photosynthesis equation is simple yet one of  the most important in nature: 

6CO2 + 6H2O –> (light energy) C6H12O6 + 6CO2

Highlight: ” Researchers at Harvard University have co-created a system that uses solar energy to split water molecules and hydrogen-eating bacteria to produce liquid fuels…this is a true A-to-Z system that has gone well over the efficiency of photosynthesis* in nature… The system can now convert solar energy to biomass with 10 percent efficiency, far above the 1 percent seen in the fastest-growing plants…While the study shows the system can be used to generate usable fuels, its potential doesn’t end there…it provides a platform that can make any downstream carbon-based molecule…so this has the potential to be incredibly versatile.”

Insight: The most innovative breakthroughs often do not arise from a simple field but at the intersection of various disciplines and expertise which highlights the importance of multidisciplinary team work. This specific case is a good example whereby a bionic leaf was made possible combining the expertise of leading experts from very different fields namely: energy, microbiology and engineering.

Multidisciplinary teams are important in any situation where strategic decisions need to be made (e.g. boards). Some key elements of benefits would include:

  • Different perspectives to a problematic;
  • Idea generations: often people from a specific field are so narrowed within their own school of thoughts that they don’t see other paths;
  • Mutual feedback on feasibility (e.g. a problem may be solved through engineering but would not work from an ethical point of view);
  • Interconnections and linkage to various fields: often a better alternative comes out by merging ideas from different fields which would not be possible without multidisciplinary teams.

Corporations which solely hire people from a single specific field (e.g. some architecture/engineering/law firms…) without expending their teams with people from very different backgrounds often loose the competitiveness battle and there are many real case studies that showcase this very fact. The most successful companies often have a good mix of talents within their workforce…

The key point here is that if one wants to truly innovate it is perhaps a wise choice to broaden the scope and expertise of the team which tackles the problem…

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…

bluestrike logo

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

Biomimetic file 172: “DNA Origami”

Why learning from crisis situations should be an important business practice

image-20160523-11025-keou90Image source: Shutterstock. Crisis*: A time when a difficult or important decision must be made.

Highlight: “a recent development has the potential to massively improve our lives: an engine measuring 200 billionths of a metre, which could power tiny robots to fight diseases in living cells… researchers have managed to make micro-propellers using tiny strands of DNA. These strands can be stitched together so freely and precisely that the practise is known as “DNA origami”…However, DNA origami lacks force and operational speed, reducing its robotic function…to overcome that, they have produced nano-engines that can be operated with beams of light to work pistons, pumps and valves (a process referred to as ANTS in reference to the extraordinary ability of ants to lift items much heavier than themselves)…. Made from gold nano-particles bound together by a heat-sensitive chemical, the nano-machines are strong, fast and simple to operate, making them extremely practical for future applications….”

Insight: Sometimes true innovation takes the courage to detach ourselves from everything  that we know or believe to be right and to tackle a problem from a very different perspective. “Copycat” practices or behaviors towards a problem are all too common in modern societies.

Because the parameters and environments in any given situation change, so should be the mean to achieve a specific outcome with the most efficiency. This human trait has become apparent in emergency situations where crews were faced with unforeseen series of events that required fixing problems fast using whatever available solutions (a famous case occurred during the Apollo 13 space mission where ground engineers had to scratch their heads to guide a flight crew in trouble; there are many other similar cases…)…great innovations have also come from times of war (e.g. the Sonar, code breaking machines…).

The point here is that perhaps we should learn more (or at least remind ourselves) from times of crisis* for everyday solutions management.

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…

bluestrike logo

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