The evolution of the world around us is a great source of inspiration for many. Rather than beginning with a totally new model, countless modern-day inventors have relied on nature’s own innovative solutions to spark their ideas.
Possibly the most well-known nature-inspired invention, Velcro was invented by Swiss electrical engineer George de Mestral. While hunting with his dog one day in the 1940s, de Mestral became fascinated with the way a collection of burdock burrs became stuck to his dog’s fur. After years of investigation and development, he created what we now know as the “hook-and-loop”, utilized in modern day Velcro.
Bonus fact: “Velcro” comes from the French words for velvet (velour) and hook (crochet).
2. Dew Bank
Inspired by a desert-dwelling beetle, the Dew Bank transforms moisture in the air into dewdrops. Onymacris unguicularis, the dew-basking beetle, inverts itself, back end in the air, to collect the morning dew on his back which rolls conveniently into the beetle’s mouth. Similarly, when placed outside at night, the metal dome of the Dew Bank cools. As the temperature warms the next morning, the dewdrops formed on the dome condense and roll down its body. These droplets are then collected in the water-catching base of the dome.
Bonus fact: Pat Kitae’s Dew Bank took bronze at the Industrial Designers Society of America awards in 2010.
3. Bullet Train Kingfisher
Eiji Nakatsu’s bird watching streamlined the shape of the bullet train. Japan’s earlier bullet trains would build up large air cushions while speeding through tunnels, generating a loud boom when exiting. These tunnel booms exceeded environmental standards, disturbing humans and wildlife in the surrounding areas. Nakatsu recognized the kingfisher’s ability to dive through the air into the water with almost no splash. Applying the shape of the kingfisher’s beak to the train’s nose allowed the trains to move much more quietly and increased their overall efficiency.
Bonus fact: The aerodynamic redesign led to 10–15% savings due to reduced energy consumption.
4. Turbine ridges
A key to renewable energy is efficiency. The ridges on the front of a humpback whale’s flipper allow the passing water to run over the edge more smoothly. Just as ridged flipper experiences less drag in water, the ridged turbine experiences reduced drag in the air. The propeller like blades are angled, similarly to an airplane’s wing, to harness the kinetic energy produced by the wind. The greater the angle, the greater the lift. However, if increased too much, the passing air becomes turbulent and can result in a stall. These ridges allow for the smoother flow of air, with increased lift and overall efficiency.
Bonus fact: The bumps on the humpback flipper are known as tubercles.