Bionics: Carapace Revisited
In the post-war 1940's and 50's, design was about power and strength. Sensuous cars, streamlined forms, and big, Big, BIG were the order of the day. Then, in the 1960's and 70's, the experimental culture emphasized experience and freedom. Wild colors, shiny plastic, and bright, flashy, loud was in. But since the 1980's, and international conflict, the aids virus, and resource shortages a more cautious tone has crept into design.
A big part of that manifests itself in products for safety, both for ourselves, and our stuff. And hard exoskeletons are a great way to provide that. One of the most recently successful stuff-protector companies is Boblbee, makers of the Metropolis Backpack.
With its molded plastic cover and iridescent shell, it makes anyone wearing it look remarkably like some beetle flying down the slopes. And like a beetle, it's hard outer shell protects your precious inner stuff -- a lunch, laptop, or just some books. When super-protection isn't absolutely necessary, you might try one of their crush-resistant Amphib backpacks.
These guys trade super impact resistance for more space, and a softer, lower cost molded foam-fabric-plastic construction. But don't underestimate them. When they are fully zipped up, they are a bazillion times more crush resistant than a standard cloth bag.
When something slightly more important than your lunch is on the line, exoskeleton mimicry is still a great option. Roy Shifrin's IDEA award winning bicycle helmet for Sportscope is one such design. Rather than have a completely rigid design, Roy's helmet uses a number of articulated plates joined by a nylon mesh. Articulation is nothing new to the animal kingdom, and is modeled here by a sowbug.
This lets the plates fit themselves automatically to the head, giving much better impact protection than a rigid helmet, which can sometimes lead to the head bouncing around inside it on impact.
And if a helmet protects one small part of a person, then a car should protect the whole person. This is the goal of PininFarina's newest concept car, the Nido.
With the growing popularity of larger, heavier, higher-bumpered cars, like SUV's, the safety of drivers who want to use small, fuel efficient cars is tenuous. Te Nido explores ways to squeeze the maximum safety out of the minimum space. The car's outer shell is attached to an egg-like safety cage for strength. Inside, the passengers are suspended between a series of crushable honeycombed aluminum supports, which crumple in a controlled way, bringing the car to a safer, slower stop upon impact. PininFarina hopes to use this technology in future ultra-compact cars as fuel economy continues to grow in importance.
Nature has used exoskeletons and armored skin for millions of years to protect it's important stuff. It's only natural that designers should follow the example. If these aren't reason enough, next time you see something protective in nature -- something falling, supporting, bouncing, or guarding -- look to see if exoskeletons are involved. We bet you'll find they are.
Copyright 2004-2006 Dominic Muren and IDFuel Team