Put simply, the practice of Biomimicry is to allow nature to serve as inspiration for innovation. This could be through the direct imitation or adaptation of forms, functions or processes that can be found in the biological world. From studying the shock-absorbing properties of woodpecker skulls, to the camouflage skills of the octopus, the natural world offers myriad opportunities to harness in our society.
It relies on the premise that nature has evolved over billions of years, developing and optimising through the process. This continuous evolution has led to extraordinary solutions to complex challenges. Natural systems can function harmoniously for millennia, something which humanity can only be envious of. Therefore by considering mother nature our, well, mother – we can begin to adopt her teachings.
When you replicate a biological process, you are adopting the performance, efficiency and sustainability too. These benefits not only translate into economic benefits for the stakeholders, but environmental and social benefits for the broader economy too. This holistic approach of biomimicry is aligned to the principles of the circular economy too, which combined offer unparalleled opportunity for sustainable development. You don’t have to take my word for it either….
“I think the biggest innovations of the 21st century will be at the intersection of biology and technology. A new era is beginning.” - Steve Jobs
Much of the technology in society is a small development on a predecessor’s work. An incremental improvement in power or efficiency, ’3% faster’, or ‘8% lighter’. The exciting thing about biomimicry is, it offers creators the opportunity to discover breakthrough innovations. Truly novel ways of solving problems, through making seemingly unrelated connections between tangible problems and biological processes. This unlocked potential is justified by this finding from the journal Biomimetics: its practice and theory:
“When comparing the human patent database with nature’s solutions, there is found only a 12% overlap in common solutions” F.V.V et al, 2006
There are many instances where nature has been copied for commercial applications. One of the most common examples goes as follows: George de Mestral was frustrated by the stubborn burdock plant burrs stuck in his dog’s fur; but soon realised the potential and thus Velcro® was born.
Many modern innovations have been developed too. One such example is that of the Powercone from Biome-renewables, based in Canada. A seemingly simple retrofit device, which allows existing wind turbines to channel incoming wind onto the blades. This in turn allows for “increasing torque, decreasing cut-in speeds, and increasing the turbine's capacity factor”. Ultimately more power could be produced, or the rotation speeds can be reduced to increase the lifespan of the blades, as well as reduce noise. It was Inspired by the likes of the Kingfisher and a Maple seed. As quoted by the creators “The PowerCone's blades follow the seed's elegant cues: relying on the same principles of time-dependant energy efficiency, it absorbs gusts and channels wind along its blades”.
How to harness Biomimicry
As designers, innovators and leaders, we have an opportunity to apply bio-inspired solutions to our problems. The challenge lies in making that connection! If you would like to apply this practice to your problem, one great place to get started in the 'ask nature' platform. From there, you can search more than 1700 impressive strategies found in natural systems through the smart categorisation of functions, like 'how to move' or 'how to protect'. They also have a great database of innovations that harness these strategies too. If you're pressed for time, the BBC have a great podcast series that looks at '30 animals that made us smarter".
If you would like to take an academic approach, there are a growing number of courses within the field but it would be best for you to research yourself within your country. Most gratifying though, is simply just to get outdoors! You don't have to traverse tropical regions, your back garden or local park can offer fascinating insights when you stop to observe how things function. What could be more inspiring than an outdoor classroom? :)