Your Mother Was A Hampster,
And Your Father Smelt Of Elderberries
At least that's what you might say to a product that was a biomimic. We've written about them before, but a couple new developments in materials, and a new resource or two make the topic worth another look (And it doesn't hurt that we're French, and totally excited about "Spamalot" opening in Chicago). Anyway, on to the animals.
About a month ago, the web was buzzing with stories about a new cloth material based on fir cones which if used in coats would allow them to passively regulate the temperature of the wearer. A few years ago, this story would have been highly unusual. But with recent innovations in building materials at very small scales and with highly controlled microstructures, making materials using nature as a template is becoming easier and easier.
And there's a good reason that we're looking to nature. Basically, she's had hundreds of millions of years to fine-tune her manufacturing process, while we've been around for a relatively short amount of time. Exposure of the process is getting better and better. Biomimicry has it's own .org these days. Check it out, it's definitely worth your time. Also, if you're looking for more information, Canadian Broadcasting has a little flash companion to a nature show on their site that's worth a look.
Of special interest is the abalone section on both these sites. This mollusk, famous for it's guitar-inlayability is helping re-write the book on self-assembling material surfaces. The way it's shell is built, like shaking ball bearings into a board full of carefully laid out holes, is a completely elegant process. It would be interesting to see if a similar concept could be carried out on a human scale; rather than letting minerals filter out of seawater, why not allow pieces of a design to filter out or be contributed to an organized scaffold to form the final built piece. More on the abalone process and it's application can be found in this article.
Sure, the lion's share of biomiminic projects in the news are either about robotics or new materials. But remember that most (if not all) of the time, humans are just as animal as our animal neighbors. Animals deal with many of the same problems we face every day: social organization, wayfinding, home construction, or food storage are all worth looking into.
If you're stuck on a problem, try to think of the natural world as containing the answer. Try to imagine what animal might face a similar problem, and then check out how it solved it. You'll be surprised how many times nature beat you to it.
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Dominic Muren and IDFuel Team