The wonders of the natural world continue to fascinate and astound us. But there’s not just beauty to be found in Mother Nature’s finest – there’s also inspiration. The clever way in which the flora and fauna of our planet adapts to survive and thrive is able to prompt us to come up with new innovations that make our life easier.
Here are some ways in which nature has inspired technology to shape the way we work and play…
Benjamin Chew Tilghman was an American soldier in the 19 th century and noticed the impact that sand had on window frames when it blew against them in desert areas. Rather than dismiss this as a mild annoyance though, Tilghman spotted the chance to apply this in a more meaningful context. In 1870 he used this inspiration to invent sandblasting – a technique used for many years to clean, sharpen, prepare and repair surfaces. The process has been refined nowadays – with different media used to prevent health issues or things like portable dust collectors being deployed to make it a safer pursuit.
Velcro is one of those products that we probably take for granted but it is essential –especially for parents trying to get their little ones into shoes. The invention dates back to 1941 and a Swiss electrical engineer George de Mestral. He’d been hunting in the Alps and afterwards noticed that his clothes and the fur of his pet dog were covered in burdock burrs. Curious, he popped a burr under the microscope and saw that it had a number of simple hooks which were able to attach themselves to loops – whether that be in his clothes or in the fur of his pet pooch. That was the seed of the idea and, after a number of years perfecting and honing this he obtained a patent for the product we now use as Velcro.
Aside from scaring the heck out of us in films, sharks have also done their bit to inspire us too. Scientists noticed that, despite gliding slowly through the oceans, sharks are able to keep themselves clear of algae. This is because, as Bloomberg notes, their skin is covered with tiny ‘dentricles’ which reduce drag and stop micro organisms from attaching themselves along. Experts at NASA teamed up with 3M and used this as inspiration for a thin film to help coat the boat Stars & Stripes. An Olympic medal and America’s Cup was testament to the success of the idea and the invention now helps planes, boats and windmills as well as surface materials for hospitals, restaurant kitchens and public bathrooms, where there’s an acute need to repel bacteria.
Japan is famed for its super-fast trains, but did you know that the design of these has been assisted by a kingfisher? Engineer Eiji Nakatsu spotted that the bird barely makes a ripple in the water when it darts down at speed in search of a meal. That observation helped him to redesign the nose of the train to resemble the kingfisher’s beak and come up with an improved model that used less power and could go even faster than before.
Image by HypnoArt pixabay