Engineering and problem-solving go hand in hand. That said, we are seeking new ways to solve problems and as such are turning to the nature world to innovate like nature. Let's consider some key differences: we minimise drag with fixed shapes, whereas nature uses nonrigid body that reconfigure; nature uses tension, whereas we most frequently use compression; and, we often design a criterion of adequate stiffness and nature is more commonly concerned with ample strength. These are just a number of innovations.
Check out these fascinating case studies below, or drop us a message if you are interested in collaborating on engineering R&D.
HINGELESS SHADING SYSTEM
The Bird-of-Paradise Flower or Strelitzia is a genus of five species of perennial plants, native to South Africa. Academics from the University of Stuttgart were tasked to develop a hingeless louvre system that can be developed for irregular shaped buildings.
After analysing a number of plant species, they settled on the pollination mechanism of the Strelitzia reginae. The flower is aligned perpendicular to the stalk, providing a perching spot for the birds. When a bird lands, its weight pulls down the bottom two petals, causing a bending motion that reveals the anthers where the pollen is. The pollen covers the bird's feet while it's feeding on nectar, and then it flies off to another flower where the pollen gets deposited on that plant's pistil.
This product is available in a range of sizes and can be 3d printed in variety of materials dependent on the client needs. This is developed into a commercial entity, Flectofin.
Some Deep Sea Sponges have skeletons made of a surprising material: glass. Appearing frail and ethereal, the sponges -- one of which is known as Venus' Flower Basket -- are anything but delicate. Their glassy skeletons are stronger than some cement, capable of sustaining the thousands of pounds of pressure present at the seafloor.
At Harvard University, Joanna Aizenberg has studied the molecular architecture that not only makes glass sponges so incredibly strong but also, allows them to harness minuscule amounts of light produced by undersea bioluminescent bacteria. Sponge building blocks are arranged in lattice-like structures -- the same type of design used by civil engineers, just much, much smaller. And the glass is layered, making it stronger, and capable of transmitting light.
Diatoms are a group of single-celled algae, and unlike almost all of our current technologies, they can rapidly and reliably synthesize nanoscale structures. Diatoms produce incredibly complex silica shells that are riddled with a regular pattern of pores. They come in a variety of shapes around 100,000 species in all. Strong, easy and quick-growing, and virtually unlimited, diatoms are drawing the attention of scientists who are interested in nanotechnology.
Image by Picturepest (cc 4.0)