From the very beginning, nature has inspired human designs:
The Native American farming technique, the Three Sisters, which grows corn, squash, and beans all in the same plot, applies the concept of interspecies mutualism. The Chipewyan people of Northwestern Canada based their traditional reindeer hunting techniques after wolves. In the Ecuadorian rainforest, the poison darts of the Huaorani tribe mimic the poison of the curare plant. Leonardo da Vinci designed his flying contraptions after closely studying birds, as did the Wright brothers. In 1941, a Swiss engineer created Velcro after seeing his dog covered in burdock burrs.
There have always been those who look to nature for creative ideas. After all, 3.8 billion years of life has provided the biological systems of this world with quite some time to optimize and test what works and what doesn’t. And yet, since the Industrial Revolution of the 1950’s, human designs have become increasingly detrimental to the health of all living organisms, including ourselves. As we come to understand the consequences of our development over the last half-century, people are beginning to return to nature, this time as students.
The term “Biomimicry”, coined by Biomimicry Institute cofounder Janine Benyus in the late-90’s, is the new word we use to reference this ancient concept of copying nature. This word encompasses every level of emulation from aesthetics to form and function, all the way to the circular economy.
Biology operates on so many complex super, sub, and parallel systems, all of which nest perfectly in and around each other to create a fully sustainable, circular biome; constantly evolving, yet constantly in equilibrium. The ultimate goal of this principle is to do the same with human systems, such that they once again find their place within the world’s ecosystem. This means zero waste, zero pollution, only renewable resources, and a cooperative mentality.
Yeah… we still have a long way to go. But, the future is bright! If necessity is truly the mother of invention, then sustainable development is an absolute necessity for the future and we will be witnessing some incredible innovations with Biomimicry leading the way.
Already, people are creating amazing bioinspired products. Below are some of the more well-known examples:
Many of these inspiring natural concepts have engendered entire companies dedicated to furthering the development of each product. Other companies, such as Festo, devote research teams to explore and prototype new biomimetic projects.
Although it is heavily technology oriented, one of the most amazing aspects about Biomimicry is its interdisciplinary nature. Because it is more a way of thinking than anything else, it can also be applied to a wide range of fields outside of technology. One such area currently gaining publicity is the concept of the circular economy. Whereas our current consumerist economy is linear and produces unsustainable amounts of waste, the circular economy studies the economics and business practices that are required to create an ecosystem of multiple interdependent industries. It is essentially redesigning the economy from a biomimetic perspective, looking at nature’s energy and nutrient transfer systems such as the Carbon, Nitrogen, and Water Cycles.
Ultimately, every aspect of nature has a specific and detailed design. No single organism stands alone without being affected or having an effect on its surroundings, especially humans. Biomimicry is the tool we will use to further understand the intricate relationships between ourselves and the rest of the world. Most of all, it institutes a change of heart as we remember how to see nature as a bank of knowledge instead of a warehouse of consumables.
For more examples of Biomimicry, check out the TED talk by Janine Benyus below, “Biomimicry in Action”.