Biomimicry gives designers inspiration from the natural world to solve complex problems. Humans have always looked to nature for design inspiration. Naming of this concept was first done in the 1950’s by American biophysicist Otto Schmitt when used the term “Biomimetics”. Janine Benyus popularized Biomimicry in her 1997 book Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature. In the image above, flower petals clean themselves with a superhydrophobic microstructure that causes water droplets to bead up and carry away dirt.
Burrs on dog fur, and Velcro. (Images from Shutterstock and Velcro.com.)
When to use
As stated in the description, it is not an uncommon question when making a functional design to ask, “What would nature do?” The method of Biomimicry is most useful for engineering solutions to physical problems in various fields such as mechanics, fluid dynamics and flight, engineering systems, and sustainability to name a few. One of the most impressive things about Biomimicry is how comprehensively nature may be used to solve real world problems. If ideas have been tried and failed to solve your problem, Biomimicry is a useful tool to take a step back and consider nature’s solutions. For example, consider an engineer working on a mini-drone who is struggling to develop flight in windy conditions. The engineer may use Biomimicry by examining the stable flight of a bumblebee in turbulent conditions to come up with a new idea for the mini-drone. For another example, consider a communications company that is struggling to distribute their client’s product effectively. By studying the optimization patterns of ant colonies, the communications company may be lead to a solution. Biomimicry is useful if you have identified the problem in your project and believe that there is likely an organic solution. To help expedite your search for answers, AskNature.org is a Biomimicry search engine.
- Provides creative solutions, often very different from human-generated solutions.
- Inspires people, engages them in sustainable design by connecting them with the natural world.
Limitations / Risks
- Solutions can be complicated, because biological systems are complicated.
- Real prototyping can be difficult, as biological materials are hard to recreate with industrial processes.
- Locating a solution from nature can require a lot of analysis and may not be an intuitive or straightforward task.
- Direct imitation of nature can be ineffective. For example, in the development of airplanes, the key to flight did not lie in the actual flapping of wings, but in the aerodynamic shape of wings.