The San Diego Zoo, one of the best-regarded zoos in the world, has spent several years promoting biomimicry and its potential benefits to the economy and various research fields. Now the zoo is really ramping up its inspired-by-nature kick, launching an entire Centre for Bioinspiration, complete with the British spelling.
The winners from the PopSci/InnoCentive challenge--check out these amazing classes any middle-school kid would love to take
By Popular Science EditorsPosted 08.14.2012 at 11:54 am 4 Comments
A year ago, our Popular Science/InnoCentive challenge here on PopSci asked for lesson plans that could be used at the middle-school level in each of five areas of science that will be vital in the future. Materials couldn't cost more than $50, and the lesson needed to fit into no more than three 50-minute classes. Here, we proudly announce the winners and runners-up.
FIRST PLACE Name: Lisa Schmidt, Australia Lesson: Study models of animal bone to understand how to engineer stronger building materials
Speedo's Fastskin line (including the banned-as-of-2009 LZR suit) of high-tech, high-performance swimsuits were inspired by the skin of a shark--shark skin's sandpaper-like texture is thought to reduce drag, hence its usefulness in swimming gear. But an ichthyologist at Harvard performed a study and found that Fastskin is "nothing like shark skin at all," and that its surface properties do not reduce drag one bit.
For animals and animal-inspired machines, launching into flight takes lots of energy. Some animals have evolved to achieve air not by accelerating and lifting off, but by jumping and then using their wings or flaps of skin to glide — like sugar gliders, for instance, or grasshoppers. Now a new Swiss robot can do this, too.
Humans might be the most highly-evolved species on the planet, but most animals possess skills we can only dream of having. Imagine how much electricity we could save if we could see in the dark the way cats do. Imagine leaping from tree to tree like a monkey. Giraffes, which are otherwise calm and genteel, sleep only 4.6 hours a day (forget flying, how can I learn to do that?).
We realized a long, long time ago--centuries, perhaps even thousands of years before the publication of Popular Science, shocking as that sounds--that nature provides the best blueprint for invention. We've borrowed canals from beavers, towers from termites and reflectors from cat's eyes. More recently, George de Mestral patented Velcro in the 1940s after seeing how burrs stuck on the fur of his dog. Although the words "bionics," "biomimetics," and "biomimicry" became popular only after the 1960s, history shows that nature has always provided ideas on solving everyday problems. Our archives don't go back to the time of Leonardo da Vinci and his bird-like flying machines, but we can take you to the late 19th century, where we applied those same principles for building our first practical airplanes.
Humanoid robots and gadget-y autonomous machines can perform lots of tasks pretty admirably. But when you have a specific need, you need a specifically-equipped robot — which can mean making modifications to existing robot archetypes, or building a specialized ‘bot designed for a sole purpose. Welcome to the age of zoobotics, in which robots are inspired not by people, or restrained by technology like in the early days of robotics. Instead, zoobotics is animal-inspired.
The spongy bones and tough-as-nails beaks of woodpeckers are inspiring a new generation of shock absorbers, potentially shielding airplane black boxes, football players and other valuable materials from the forces of impact.
High-rise dwellers and office workers might someday see aerial drones join the usual pigeons and other birds perched outside their windows. Stanford University's Biomimetics Laboratory has video footage of tests with fixed-wing drones landing on walls and grappling on with their leg spines, as Botjunkie discovered.