Ever since biomimetics (the imitation of nature) gradually emerged around 2002 and really took off in 2005, it has not slowed down.  Over 90 previous entries in these pages have reported teams all over the world seeking out natural designs for ideas.  The reports have accelerated in recent years to the point where there is only space for short summaries that give a taste of the wide variety of engineering work taking inspiration from plants, animals, and even cells.  You yourself might inspire some inventor.  Here are a few more highlights from recent adventures in biomimetics.

  1. Hummingbird drone:  Since 2007, DARPA scientists have tried to build a “nano air vehicle” modeled on the hummingbird, for use as a small field reconnaissance robot.  The team even modeled and painted their miniature Unmanned Autonomous Vehicle (UAV) to look like the real bird; it flies, however, upright instead of prone.  The noisy contraption has had numerous crashes but was ready enough to present to the press this year.  Live Science posted a story about it and included a 3-minute video clip of its development.
    This is just stage one of a wider program. “Having many tiny drones such as the Nano Hummingbird also calls for new nature-inspired capabilities such as insect vision and reflexes to avoid midair collisions,” the article ended.  “Part of that smaller drone future may very well include more flying robots based on birds, if engineers have mastered the tricky flight mechanics of the hummingbird.”  If they can get it to lay eggs, they’ll really be onto something.
  2. Plant origami:  The seed capsules of Delosperma know a trick: how to fold and unfold in response to the environment.  Like many other plants, Delosperma has moving parts from its tissues that expand or contract in response to temperature or humidity; when it rains, the capsule opens and the seeds find a new moist environment in which to grow. A team at Max Planck Institute has been studying this plant and seeing green.  According to PhysOrg, “the scientists are now keen to transfer this concept to a technology that could be used for example in biomedicine or architecture,” the article said.  Think of the possibilities: “The principle can also be transferred to materials that expand or contract in very different ways when the temperature changes: for example, an awning unfolding by itself over the patio when the sun becomes uncomfortably hot.”
  3. Gecko window washer:  Gecko feet were among the first big biomimetics stories.  A number of teams have worked on imitating the dry adhesion the lizards achieve with millions of nanoscopic hairs on their foot pads.  A new story on PhysOrg sports a video of a new model made in China that “uses water instead of hairs to make its amazing climbs up vertical surfaces.” They want to use it to wash windows.  While the team didn’t use the gecko’s dry adhesion mechanism in this case, the gecko still inspired the work….

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