What Is Biomimicry, Anyway?
What Is Biomimicry, Anyway?
By Grist staff / grist.org

Let’s play a game. It’s called “Who made it?” and it goes like this: I’ll describe a series of objects, and you guess who made them. If you guess all of them correctly, there will be a special prize waiting for you at the end of this article. Ready? Let’s begin.

First up: an autonomous flying machine that uses insects as fuel, navigates with sound, releases a rich fertilizer as its primary emission, and can fold up into a compact pod while not in flight. It’s also biodegradable. Was this lean green flying machine made by San Francisco-based drone startup WinnginIt, or is it just one in a long line of autonomous fliers that nature has been working on for millions of years?

Next: a plumbing system that uses the simple physics of suction to pump water hundreds of feet into the air through a single, free-standing column. The system assembles itself, grows over time, and can withstand winds of up to 90 miles per hour. It’s designed to last for thousands of years but is ultimately biodegradable. Is this gravity-defying douche of the gods the brainchild of sibling plumbers Mario and Luigi, or is it part of nature?

And finally: a camera that contains more than 2 million moving parts, has a self-healing elastic lens, makes up to 100 tiny adjustments per second, and can distinguish between millions of colors and detect a flickering light more than a mile away. It’s also biodegradable but feeds everything that it sees into a complex computing network for storage and analysis. Is this shutterbug dream machine a super secret surveillance technology that the NSA installs in everyone’s head at birth, or is it a miracle of evolution that’s been in nature’s shop since before animals were even on land?

The answers to all of these, in no particular order, are nature. Bats, trees, eyes — they’re all part of the grand menagerie of life that nature’s been working on for roughly the past 3.8 billion years. We tend to take them for granted, like they’re just set dressing to the natural environment, but they’re actually complex machines far superior to anything that we’ve ever built.

No shade to humans; we’ve done pretty well for ourselves in the roughly 0.005 percent of time that we’ve been at it, compared to nature. Sure, our robots are hilariously clumsy, and our “hoverboards” burst into flames, but we’ve got megacities and airplanes and smartphones, and that all would’ve seemed like magic just over a century ago.

Still, we could do a lot more — and a lot better — if we just combined our skills with nature’s wisdom.

Mimicking instead of reinventing the wheel — or, as the case may be, the bat — is called biomimicry. By looking to nature for inspiration and guidance, we can, for example, learn how leaves clean themselves in order to make self-cleaning surfaces. Rather than using harsh chemical paints, we could copy the way butterflies use the physics of light and texture to color their wings. And we can build machines out of biologically-inspired materials so that they can bend, stretch, heal, and biodegrade like we do.

The beauty of biomimicry (other than it being a more effective and sustainable way to build things, of course) is that it offers a veritable treasure trove of opportunities. That’s because whatever the engineering challenge, chances are, nature has already solved it sometime in the last 3 billion years. We just need to go looking for those solutions.

Fortunately, a growing number of engineers, designers, entrepreneurs, and other biomimicry enthusiasts are doing just that. Take Stefanie Koehler. A product designer by training, Koehler received a master’s degree in sustainable design from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design in 2013 and now works as a consultant for Biomimicry for Creative Innovation and LikoLab. She helps businesses improve their operations using biomimicry, by viewing themselves as living organisms within a larger economic ecosystem.

Koehler is just one of many people with a sustainability-focused career who have gone through a sustainable design program like MCAD’s. Graduates of these types of programs go on to work in a variety of industries, including fashion, graphic design, and green building.

OK, we promised the winners of our quiz a special prize. Except, that was a lie, because this is for everyone. Enjoy:

0.0 ·
0
What's Next
Trending Today
The Myth of Positivity: Why Your Pain Holds a Mighty Purpose
umair haque · 18,622 views today · Of all the great myths of contemporary life, one of the most toxic is positivity. It says: there are negative and positive emotions, and only the positive ones are worth...
Stunning Summary of US Imperialism and Native Resistance... on MSNBC!
4 min · 8,587 views today · On The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell on MSNBC, Lawrence explains why a protest by Native Americans in North Dakota reminds us of the history American always tries to forget.
Have You Heard of The Great Forgetting? It Happened 10,000 Years Ago & Completely Affects Your Life
Daniel Quinn · 7,825 views today · (Excerpted from the book, The Story of B) With every audience and every individual, I have to begin by making them see that the cultural self-awareness we inherit from our...
Seven Must-Have Skills for the 21st Century
Tommy Lehe · 5,872 views today · We live in a world that moves faster than we do. Trying to keep up can be an overwhelming task that at times feels hopeless, like we are falling further and further behind—but...
A Hauntingly Beautiful Short Film About Life and Death
5 min · 5,335 views today · The Life of Death is a touching handdrawn animation about the day Death fell in love with Life.
Standing Rock Wisdom: How Sacred, Nonviolent Activism Has the Power to Succeed
Charles Eisenstein · 4,597 views today · I am told by Native American friends active at Standing Rock that the elders are counseling the Water Protectors to undertake each action prayerfully and to stay off the...
10 Stunning Images from the Wildlife Photographer of the Year People's Choice Award
Natural History Museum · 4,440 views today · These incredible images are a selection from of the 25 shortlisted by The Natural History Museum for the People's Choice Award from this year's Wildlife Photographer of the...
Forget Air Force One, Pentagon Wastes Billions and Billions Every Month
Nadia Prupis · 3,944 views today · President-elect Donald Trump's focus on single Boeing contract ignores enormous waste of bloated Pentagon budget
DREAM: A Spoken Word Meditation For When Life Is Kicking Your Ass
4 min · 3,580 views today · If life is kicking your ass and the general un-coolness of everybody on planet erf is making you want to off yourself, TALK to someone: 800-273-8255 (national suicide...
The Other Way of Knowing
Lilian Na’ia Alessa · 3,274 views today · Western science and Indigenous worldviews are often seen as incompatible, with the Indigenous view usually being far less valued by society at large. But an inside look at...
Veterans at Standing Rock Ask Forgiveness for War Crimes Against Tribal Nations
Jen Hayden · 3,056 views today · Jon Eagle Sr., Tribal Historic Preservation Officer at Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has reported something wholly unexpected happened at the Standing Rock Reservation today. The...
Why People Cling to Old Beliefs
1 min · 2,766 views today · Cognitive psychologist and neuroscientist at McGill University, Daniel Levitin, explains why people can be so stubborn when it comes to false beliefs. This behavior is...
Dear Activists, Maybe It's Time to Admit That We've Got It All Wrong
Mickey Z. · 2,571 views today · “The first step in the revolution is eye contact.” - Alicen Grey
How a White Supremacist Became a Civil Rights Activist
Araz Hachadourian · 2,452 views today · The story of a KKK leader’s transformation shows us that we need not live forever with the kind of violence we saw in Charleston this month.
Solar is Already Producing More Energy Than Oil, Says Major Scientific Review
Nafeez Ahmed · 2,214 views today · And is twice as powerful than previously thought
13 Crises That We All Must Face
George Monbiot · 1,716 views today · We face (at least) 13 major crises, some of which are immediate. It’s time for some hard thinking about how we confront them.
Sean Carroll - The Meaning of Life
7 min · 1,669 views today · The world keeps happening in accordance with its rules; it's up to us to make sense of it and give it value. Sean Carroll Music: Moby - God Moving Over the Face of the Waters
Amanda Abbington Introduces iAnimal - 42 Days in the Life of Chickens
4 min · 1,611 views today · Shot undercover in British factory farms and slaughterhouses, this immersive 360° video gives you a birds-eye view of what happens to chicken from farm to plate.
Satish Kumar on "What Is a Sacred Place?"
3 min · 1,529 views today · Satish Kumar brings a Hindu, Buddhist and Jain perspective to the definition of "sacred place." We found his explanation so compelling that we edited a three-minute piece...
The Most Powerful Algorithm in the World
Joe Brewer · 1,415 views today · After the insanity of the U.S. election, a lot of people are blaming Facebook for its algorithms that parse us into ideological bubbles and spread “fake news” and other kinds...
Load More
Like us on Facebook?
What Is Biomimicry, Anyway?