Top 7 COOLEST Technology Innovations Inspired by Nature
Whenever we hear the words ‘’innovation’’ or ‘’creativity’’, we tend to typically think of technology, R&D labs, cutting-edge corporations, and prestigious academic institutions. Despite the ingenuity and engineering ability humans have demonstrated over the past millennia, time and again, we fall short of ‘’creativity’’ when compared to mother nature.
The examples of how insights from nature can improve, inspire and innovate technology are endless. One of the ambitious project Artificial Photosynthesis happened in 2016, when an artificial leaf split water into hydrogen and oxygen, combined with a modified bacteria, converted hydrogen into liquid fuel ten times as efficiently as plants.
Out of the hundreds of such nature inspired innovations, we thought it would be interesting to round up a few awe-inspiring examples. Here is my list of the top seven astounding examples.
1. Nature’s Inspiration — Roach
Innovation — Smallest, Fastest, and Smartest Micro bot
Use Cases — rescue missions, surveillance, crop pollination and climate monitoring
The Cockroach, an insect that makes us squirm out of control, has been inspiring roboticists all over the world. The main reason behind this is that this annoying insect is hard to exterminate! It has existed for the past 320 million years, can live without its head for nearly a week, go to any corner on this planet, and can carry loads of up to 900 times its body weight! Wow!
The Cockroach inspired a near-indestructible miniature robot. It is smaller than a penny but mighty in carrying loads and runs 14 body lengths per second, making it both the smallest and the fastest micro-robot out there. Using multi functional foot pads, it can swim on water surfaces and is also fitted with smart sensors that help it feel its surroundings.
I guess it will be the first one to show-up before any firefighter or a rescue dog is able to, in emergencies like earthquakes. In the future, it might crawl into spaces where physical inspection is not possible. Read More
2. Nature’s Inspiration — Cheetah
Innovation — Fastest Soft Robot
Use Cases — Industrial manufacturing robotics
The Cheetah is the fastest creature on land and derives its speed and power from the flexing of its spine. Unlike the previous soft robots which were crawlers, this one can gallop.
The new robots exert quick force against the ground which enables them to reach 2.7 body-lengths per second — more than three times faster. They can tune their force exerted and lift delicate objects like eggs or heavy objects weighing more than 10 kilograms. From swimming to leaping, to running or ascending a steep incline, they can virtually do almost everything.
Potential applications include search/rescue technologies, needing speed, and industrial manufacturing. For example, imagine a robot in manufacturing industry that is fast yet can handle fragile objects.
3. Nature’s Inspiration — Swarm of Bees
Innovation — Fastest Soft Robot
Use Cases — Energy grids
Bees in a hive instinctively sense their job. In fact, every animal moving/working in a group displays this collective intelligence called as “Swarm Logic”.
Different types of building equipment usually operate in isolation. They take signals from a single thermostat located elsewhere and have no knowledge of other devices or what else is currently operating in the facility. As they are not in sync, they often end up operating simultaneously, unnecessarily consuming more power.
Inspired by the bees, present controllers have a wireless mesh especially, among the power-consuming appliances that lets them communicate among themselves and spread out the energy demand — Resulting in a smart, networked, and energy-responsive assets. Read More
4. Nature’s Inspiration — Insect Eyes
Innovation — Advanced Photovoltaics
Use Cases — Low cost material to convert sunlight to electricity
Solar energy is in high demand as more greener moves are being made to help the environment. The traditional solar panels must be made much cheaper and retain its efficiency.
Eyes of insects are packed with tiny micro-lenses. Similarly, tiny solar cells are packed together paving the way for a new generation of advanced photovoltaics. This is called perovskite and this technique does not let them deteriorate when exposed to heat, moisture, or mechanical stress. Otherwise, most solar devices, such as rooftop panels, use a flat design but that approach does not work well with perovskite solar cells. Read More
5. Nature’s Inspiration — School of Fish
Innovation — Collision free vehicles
Use Cases — Nissan connected cars
In the next couple of years or so, cars will be autonomous and the need for lanes & signals would be gone. One of the important goal of the automotive industry is to virtually achieve zero fatalities/serious injuries among the passengers of its vehicles.
Nissan’s engineers were studying a school of fish and noticed the fish weren’t separated by any lines that help guide them across. They somehow manage to swim extremely close to each other without causing a collision, this natural phenomenon inspired the EPORO (Episode 0 Robot). They utilize a Laser Range Finder (LRF) technology to communicate among themselves to monitor each other’s positions, avoiding collisions, travel side-by-side, or in single-file, thus exhibiting the behavior of fish swimming in schools. Read More
6. Nature’s Inspiration — Jelly Fish
Innovation — Microfluidic Chip
Use Cases — Capturing Cancer Cell
A jellyfish uses its tentacles to catch its prey. This inspired a team of researchers to design a way to capture dangerous cancer cells moving in blood.
Generally, Cancer cells are in a threatening state when they break away from their original site and start invading other parts of the body. To find out if that is happening in a patient, doctors often look for them in a blood sample.
Scientists designed a device with long chains of DNA made from aptamers — “sticky” blocks of DNA — specially made to latch on to a protein which is found in certain leukemia, lung and colon cancers. This bio-inspired device can catch up to 80 percent of target cells. This has helped medical professionals to diagnose and treat different cancers early. Read More
7. Nature’s Inspiration — Water Bear
Innovation — Shrink Wrap
Use Cases — Prolonging vaccine life
A process called anhydrobiosis protects a water bear’s DNA, RNA, and proteins when they dry out and they can do so for up to 120 years — upon hydration they instantly come back to life.
In the US, most vaccines are lost due to handling errors during transportation or treatment. Biomatrica, a San Diego based company, inspired by this process of anhydrobiosis invented a chemical barrier “shrink-wrap”. This protects live vaccines and eliminates the need for them to be refrigerated during transportation. They come alive again when they meet water.
There has been a similar invention to protect vaccines — glassy film made of sugars that keeps the virus effective for six months at temperatures up to 45 degrees Celsius. This makes it useful for vaccinations in tropical countries. Read More
Nature — Inspiring and Motivating — My Thoughts:
Thousands of time-tested innovations have been scattered across our globe. From butterfly wings, to shark skin, to leaves, to the way an own owl flies in the dark, inspiration is found everywhere.
If we want to survive and thrive in the next century, we must learn to design systems that are more environmentally sustainable, and all of this is going to require changing the way we think.
It’s simple! There are 30 million species representing a reservoir of inspiration and we should always keep an open mind to listen and observe nature with an innovative mindset, to build newer solutions for the well being of humans. Understand how nature has evolved and given cues to inventions and look for areas to innovate. In short, listen — observe — understand — think — create — innovate. Nature has a solution for everything.
Looking forward to gaining more knowledge from our beloved beautiful Earth and hope to see many more spectacular wonders of technology inspired from our ever-evolving beautiful planet.
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This post was written by Asokan Ashok, the CEO of UnfoldLabs. Ashok is an expert in driving customer insights into thriving businesses and commercializing products for scale. As a leading strategist in the technology industry, he is great at recommending strategies to address technology & market trends. Highly analytical and an industry visionary, Ashok is a sought after global high-tech industry thought leader and trusted strategic advisor by companies.
Entrepreneur. Inventor. Product Ideation. Strategist. Visionary. Evangelist. Architect.
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