“Come forth into the light of things, Let Nature be your teacher” ~William Wordsworth
With increasing awareness of our surroundings, we have begun massively exploring how we can manipulate and adapt our surroundings to evolve around us, rather than slowly adapting to our environment. Nevertheless, many impressive breakthroughs of technology that propel changes towards medicine, machinery, agriculture and product design can often enough encourage detachment from our ecological roots. But where does inspiration come from? Believe it or now, a lot of solutions to population problems, mechanical errors and cures to diseases have all derived from nature. So why do we strive for such detachment from our natural wonders, whilst at the same time, groom the crooks and holes of Nature for inspiration?
Below are just five small examples of how Nature has changed our lives. It has evoked amazing designs of transportation, movement, improved aids for disabilities and human welfare. Nature, no matter what form – will always inspire and spark ideas. After all, it has had millions more years to evolve, learn and adapt, so in a way we should feel confident learning from our historic ‘parents’.
1. Japan’s Bullet Train
Image Source: Rudy Herman
This bizarre, yet fascinating 500-series Shinkansen bullet train operates in Japan – running between Tokyo and Hakata. Performing speeds of up to 300km/h, the Shinkansen is well known for its punctuality, comfort, efficiency and safety. Inspiration for the design of these models actually derived from two animals. The first is from the plumage of an owl. The plumage of owls has evolved to reduce air resistance and noise, which has been used as an important factor during design of the train. The feathers of the owl are known as ‘saw-toothed wave feathers’ designed to generate small vortexes in the airflow that then further breaks up larger vortexes – thus reducing noise.
Image Source: Hawkgenes
Secondly, the front sharp nose cone design of the train was inspired by the kingfisher’s aerodynamic beak. A common problem in high-speed trains is the loud noises produced when passing through tunnels. As a train exits a tunnel, compressed air suddenly expands creating a loud sonic boom -this noise can rattle for miles and would definitely be a form of noise pollution. To solve this problem train experts studied the kingfisher – watching its perfectly designed beak for fishing. Being able to dive straight down into water, with very little splash is an example of an evolutionary adaption of creating little differences in pressure when travelling at fast speeds – that, similarly caused by bullet trains.
Image Source: Jed B
Manufactures teamed up with scientists to replicate these aerodynamic features in the front of the train. So it is the kingfishers amazing ability to dive that has led to a transformation in design of many Japanese trains – resulting in reduced noise when leaving tunnels. “We are surrounded by genius” one Japanese design engineer proclaimed, and that is something we can’t argue with.
2. Mercedes Bionic Concept Car
Now here is a car certainly unique in appearance and persona. Its fascinating exterior design of this model has been inspired by the yellow boxfish – a very well evolved tropical fish that has adapted to life in coral reefs. Due to the low coefficient of drag due to its body shape, and the rigidity of its skeleton – inspired Mercedes-Benz to model the bionic after this fish, influencing the cars abnormal looks of a hexagonal shaped body. The car reaches up to 60km in a sharp eight seconds. It emits 80% lower nitrogen oxide, whilst consuming 20% less fuel. Hallelujah Mercedes-Benz you have created one bizarre – yet impressive car.
Image Source: Ryan Somma
3. Aeroplanes Wings
Image Source: Flavio Pimentel
The design and analysis of the wings of aircrafts is one of the principle applications of the science of aerodynamics – another inspired by the wings of birds. Birds are masters of flying – their flawless design of a lightweight skeleton, powerful chest muscles, fused bones and aerodynamic wings allows amazing movement on the wing, and it is no wonder that they become the key influence towards the development of aviation. The Wright brothers, regarded as the original inventors of the airplane, studied the vulture wing using it as a model when building the wings of their Kitty Hawk plane.
Image Source: Alantankenghoe
Over time, mankind has made substantial progress in the development of airplanes, with the bird’s wings shaping flight technology. The study of the bird flight has led to significant changes in the structure to the wings. One of the first planes to make use of these changes was the American F-111 fighter. Originally, the fighter didn’t consist of control surfaces such as ailerons and flaps, which are often used in aircrafts to control movement. Instead, just has birds so, the fighter could sweep its wings – allowing it remain balance during turning.
4. Turbine Blades
Image Source: L2XY2
Flippers are typically flat limbs that have evolved for efficient movement through water, and those of the humpback whale are a great example. Despite being 40-50 feet long and weighing almost 80,000 pounds, the flippers easily propel the whale through water. The whales surprising dexterity is due primarily to its non-conventional flippers, which have large, irregular looking bumps known as tubercules across their leading edges.
Image Source: Scott Portelli (Wildlife Photographer)
Wind tunnel tests of model humpback flippers with and without leading-edge tubercules have observed what fluid dynamic improvements tubercules make. A suprising 32% reduction in drag and 40% and 8% improvement in lift are results of the whale’s tubercules. A company called Whalepower are incorporating these lessons from nature into their design of wind turbines – improving efficiency, safety and cost.
5. Hearing Aids
Image Source: Faculty Lab: Ronald Miles
A breakthrough in hearing aids has recently been announced on the development of a microphone that can pinpoint exactly where the source of sound is coming from. This, again is not a trick from the human imagination but in fact has been enthused from a parasitic fly called Ormia ochracea. An amazing evolutionary adaptation of a bridge of protein linking its eardrums provides this fly with exceptional hearing. This special bridge rocks up and down, amplifying the differences in the sound waves that arrive in each ear – allowing the fly to detect the slightest differences and receives a better directional signal. Maryland University have observed that this new fly microphone is eight times more effective at analysing the direction of the stimulus, then the current hearing aid.
It’s marvellous! One world – natural and raw, inspiring another that is more artificial and intellectual to adapt its products, designs and lifestyle from its tricks and flawless evolutionary adaptations. We must remember that learning and appreciating the natural world around us, is the key to evolution. Who knows what doors can open to future breakthroughs and developments by keeping our eyes peeled to the simplest and smallest things that live around us? We share this world together, and detaching ourselves from ecological roots may only hold us back.