Thursday, February 2, 2012

Biomimicry and Collaboration

Many years ago, I was asked by my first of two fathers-in-law, why someone (not me) would spend time and money studying the hind legs of a frog? My retort was that maybe - someday - that seemingly trivial knowledge could solve a tricky hydraulic problem on the space shuttle. Whether that ever happened, I don't know, but he eventually bought into my argument, and later claimed it as his own. That's life!
Today there is a growing field of what is called biomimicry or biomimetics which is - as Wikipedia puts it -  "the examination of nature's models, systems, processes and elements to emulate or take inspiration from in order to solve human problems."
If you visit the San Diego Zoo Biomimicry site, you will find many examples of how imitating nature has led to many innovations. For example:

  • Namib beetle adaptation inspires fresh water collection methods
  • Folding plants inspire next generation of shape-shifting robots
  • Plant with egg-beater-shaped hairs inspires new waterproof coating
  • A display innovation from Qualcomm mimics the microstructure of a butterfly's wings to generate structural color rather than pigmentation

San Diego Zoo commissioned an Economic Impact Study and estimated that biomimicry would have a $300 billion annual impact on the US economy in 15 years, and an additional $50 billion in environmental remediation. One of the essential patterns in nature is collaboration, and I recently came across a video of a presentation by Janine Benyus to a Google Atmosphere Conference specifically on biomimicry and collaboration. Janine Benyus is one of the leading lights in the field, and a co-founder of the Biomimicry Guild. The video is 35 minutes long, but if like me your find nature inspiring, I think you will find it very engaging.

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