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10 Interesting Innovations Inspired by Nature

6. The Namib beetle inspired fog harvesting. This beetle’s body is highly hydrophobic giving it the ability to collect fog and roll it to its mouth without losing a single drop. Shreerang Chharte adopted this design to create a biomimetic fog-harvesting method.

Fog harvesting
Image credits: K-C. Park/MIT, Jochen Smolka/Flickr

Fog-harvesting is a method of harvesting water used mostly by people living in high altitudes or the semi-arid areas along coastal regions. People in these regions place a wire mesh over a container. The wire mesh collects the fog and rolls it down its fibers into the collection chamber in the form of water droplets. This method may sound impractical, but when left overnight, it collects a considerable amount of water.

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In a bid to devise new and advanced ways of harvesting fog, Shreerang Chhatre did a detailed observation on the Namib beetle, and he realized that the beetle was able to collect droplets of water on its back and roll them to its mouth without losing a single drop.

The Namib beetle has a highly hydrophobic back covered with a super-hydrophobic wax that does not absorb water. Instead, it rolls the water into its mouth.

He picked up the beetle’s water-harvesting technique to create a hydrophobic material that will first attract and then repel water into a container without absorbing it. This innovation is used in developing nations as an economical means of harvesting fresh water. (1, 2)

7. A Japanese engineer was inspired by the kingfisher to design a bullet train that produces less noise. He incorporated the shape of its bill into a new design of trains and was successful in reducing the sonic-boom effect.

Shinkansen Train
Image credits: Kurofune/Wikimedia, Pixabay

The Kingfisher is an intelligent bird and a skilled, fish hunter. The kingfisher hunts for a fish from a tree or by hovering above the water until it spots the fish. Without hesitation, it dives right into the water without making any noise which helps it catch its delicacy with much ease.

A bullet train is estimated to travel up to a top speed of more than 300 kilometers per hour. This speed made the bullet train accumulate air as it goes through a tunnel and create a loud booming sound. The loud noise became a nuisance to the people living near the railway line and to the wildlife nearby.

A group of engineers from the Shinkansen bullet train wanted to cut down the noise. While at it, they realized that kingfisher’s bill shape is like a wedge, an ideal shape to help the bird disperse air and water out of its way, therefore, making no noise as it travels through the water. The team went back to the bullet train and worked on its shape to resemble that of the kingfisher’s bill, and it worked! This innovation not only reduced the amount of noise produced but also reduced the amount of energy used in the process by 15%, and also the speed increased by 10%. (12

8. The echolocation used by bats has inspired the innovation of “ultra cane.” Ultra cane uses ultrasonic echoes to detect how significant and how far ahead obstacles are and converts this information into vibrating buttons in its handle.

Ultra cane is also another exciting innovation inspired by nature.  The ability of bats to move with ease at night with less visual ability using echolocation inspired Rohan Paul, a computer scientist, to develop an ultra cane to help visually impaired people.

Bats produce sounds by engaging their larynx. They listen to the echos of these sounds from nearby objects. The time it takes to hear the echo enables them to gauge how close they are to obstacles.

Just like the bat, ultra cane vibrates when near objects, therefore, sending signals to the visually impaired person holding the rod that there is an obstacle in the way. This way, the user will be able to move around with ease and confidence without running into objects. In addition, this particular type of cane can sense obstacles four meters away enabling the user to make informed decisions sooner. (source)

9. Oyster shells inspired the innovation of a hard-to-break glass. The biomimetic glass is two to three times more impact resistant than laminated glass and tempered glass and outperforms Plexiglas.

Oyster glass
(Image 1) Used for representational purpose only. Image credits: Sam Tsang/SCMP, Pixabay

Initially, products made of glass look beautiful and fancy, but there is one challenge – they break easily. To provide a permanent solution to this problem, a group of engineers shifted their attention to nature and, in particular, oyster shells.

Francois Berthelot, a McGill University Engineer, realized that oyster shells were not only beautiful but also very durable compared to most everything else. Berthelot and his team learned that the shell lining (mother of pearl) is made up of tiny blocks that slide away from each other when put under a force. These small blocks are known as “nacre.” Nacre is made up of aragonite which is a type of calcium carbonate. Nacre gives the oyster shells their resilient and stiffness.

The team applied the oyster shell design to their glass. Practically, they arranged the glass sheets to mimic the oyster shell’s blocks. The final product bends when subjected to force rather than breaking apart. Additionally, Berthelot’s glass also had perfect images. Manufactures in the window-making industry, solar-production industry, windshield production, and touch screens use this biomimetic innovation. (source)

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10. Leaf veins inspired the change of the distribution network. This great innovation by Rockefeller University would help the cargo distribution close all the loopholes and get their packages to the destination in the shortest time possible.

Network Distribution
Image credits: Ryan Lackey/Flickr, The Wandering Angel/Flickr

Moving from point A to B in a straight line may sound like the most efficient way. However, according to Rockefeller University, it is prone to challenges, and the route may take a long time should something happen if the route was cut in two.

It is for this reason that the researchers did a lot of research on how the distribution network worked in plants. They realized that leaf veins provided the most efficient distribution network than any other part of the plant.

The interconnected veins loop on the leaves and can redistribute water on the sheet even when a part of it is damaged.  Researchers concluded that using the leaf’s design could provide more efficient distribution routes to a single destination. This method will ensure that should damage occur on one of the channels; the cargo/products would still get to their destination.

This innovation has been picked up and used by engineers to design distribution channels for water and electricity. (source)

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