In 1941 while taking a stroll through the woods with his canine companion, George de Mestral, a Swiss engineer, pondered at the thought as to why parts of a plant always stuck to his coat and dog. Under a microscope, Mestral noticed the hook-and-loop system that the seeds use to hitch on passing animals, helping aid pollination. Inspired by the Arctium plant’s seeds, the Swiss engineer designed a lineal piece of fabric with tiny hooks, meshing with another fabric strip with smaller hooks, sticking to one another until it was pulled apart. He patented this design under the name of “Velcro”, a mix of velour and crochet, velvet and hook. By George acting on curiosity, he innovated a design with inspiration that derived from a plant, but the Swiss engineer wasn’t the only one who's done that.
Copying Nature's Design and Process
“For businesses, biomimicry is about bringing a new discipline - biology - to the design table. It’s not to write an environmental impact statement, as most biologists in business do right now” - Janine Benyus
In 1997 Janine Benyus coined the term in her book “Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature,” it's a term that's used for when we mimic nature to solve complex, human issues. Her book tells the story of computing, energy and health innovations that took an eye towards nature and structures of the natural world. Janine has published 6 books, currently teaches interpretive writing at the University of Montana, and has been an innovation consultant for huge corporations such as General Mills, Kraft, Natura, Boeing, Nike, and Nyserda. Her belief is that many designers are focusing on looking at other human technologies rather than looking at nature. Designers should start getting in the habit of using biologists to help solve these complicated issues by mimicking nature. Janine states that there are three types of biomimicry,
“One is copying form and shape, another is copying a process, like photosynthesis in a life, and the third is mimicking at an ecosystem’s level, like building a nature-inspired city.”
Humans have looked at nature for answering problems throughout our existence because of the adaptation and evolution life organisms have had over the course of billions of years.
(3) Leonardo Da Vinci, despite never being successful in creating a “flying machine,” observed the anatomy of birds and their flight for its design. In 1902, when the Wright Brothers succeeded Leonardo by engineering the first aircraft, they observed pigeons in flight for the wing’s design for lift and its curvature for maneuverability. But even in today’s modern world, this kind of observation is still prevalent in innovation. (4) The autonomy of self-driving cars and it’s software is being mimicked from ant colonies and the psychology behind swarm intelligence. From researching ant behavior, software engineers are getting glimpses, ideas for how cars are going to be able to communicate with one another in highly dense cities while being in vast numbers.
(5) Circular Economy is a buzzword among the manufacturing industries - its goal is to mimic nature by replicating a whole ecosystem. Ecosystems are really, really good at recycling. Humans? Not so much. If you take a glimpse of nature, everything is upcycled; water is evaporated and falls back onto land, a process repeating indefinitely. In the forest, timber that falls over begins decomposing, being eaten and broken down by fungi that can release nutrients back into the soil, or becomes food for herbivorous wildlife - directly impacting the local food chain. A circular economy is to create and establish a closed recycle loop, a regenerative system in our manufacturing processes that creates no byproducts, in other words - garbage that ends up in our landfills.
Ecosystems are the masters of upcycling, and if we could continue to proactively interpret those processes and proceed to master them? Well, that's biomimetic's end goal, replicating mother nature by making systems indistinguishable from the natural world - from urban cities to software. Life settled itself on planet Earth 3.5 billion years ago, and mother nature has had time to study, adapt, and evolve - she knows what works and what doesn’t.
To the people who are designing our world in this day and age, study closely. Mother Nature knows best.
(1)“For businesses, biomimicry is about bringing a new discipline...” www.brainyquote.com
(2)“One is copying form and shape....” www.brainyquote.com
(4) Incorporation of Swarm Intelligence in Autonomous Cars: Rodrigues Institute of Technology.pdf
(5) Environmental Sciences: Sustainable Development and Circular Economy