Biomimetic file 184: Surface Tension

How to overcome obstacles with minimal risks

1robot_closeupImage source: Seoul National University

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?

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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

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image 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 than perhaps do so in times where things seem too good to disturb anything…

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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 181: Electronics Fungal Processing

How changing the form of a problem  can lead the path to a solution

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Picture 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 learnt 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, than 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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Biomimetic file 180: “Immune” Induced Cryptography

How assessing business health can minimize risks

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Image source: Jon Han

Highlight: ” Darktrace’s immunity approach represents a compelling new take on cybersecurity…Modeled after the human body’s immune system, the EIS embeds in a computer network and learns what behavior is considered normal for that system… It can then spot suspicious activity and even work to slow an attack, just as the human immune system releases antibodies at the first sign of invasive cells… Where most cybersecurity companies focus on teaching their technology to recognize the digital footprints of malware or building firewalls to block intruders, Darktrace takes a more hands-off approach… Rather than rely on humans to feed them specific examples of suspicious behavior, its algorithms train themselves to find abnormalities—a technique that’s known as unsupervised machine learning…”

Insight: The immune system is a remarkable defense mechanism against external threats. Besides the complexity of the immune response, the simplicity of the approach is one that is inspirational:  Identify – Assimilate – React.

The analogy of the immune system response is a powerful business philosophy:1) Know how to identify the threats, 2) accept and assimilate these threats to ready a defense, 3) react to the threats.

Without the ability to identify and assimilate it is impossible to react with adequacy; Many corporations show obvious signs of this inability…

The constantly changing nature of the surrounding environment requires a dynamic defensive approach and this is becoming more relevant than ever before. Future successful entities will increasing become the ones that are most flexible in their structure, able to adapt and react to continuously evolving risk factors. How healthy is your company’s immune system?

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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

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Image source: creative commons

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 177: Cyborg Stingray & Soft Robotic Breakthroughs

Why scaling without adjustments leads to greater risks

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Image 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

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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 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…

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

Biomimetic file 173: Bionic leaf 2.0

Why multidisciplinary teams is a key success factor leading to innovation

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Image source: Harvard University

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…

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

Biomimetic file 172: “DNA Origami”

Why learning from crisis situations should be an important business practice

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Image source: Shutterstock

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 nanoparticles 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…

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Biomimetic file 153: fire retardants

Non-Toxic flame retardants developed from compounds found in Mussels

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

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

More information: here

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

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www.biodiversity.sg