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Biomimicry: the solutions are in nature

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For millions of years, the plant and animal world has inspired mankind with his most beautiful creations. Today, manufacturers observe living things – forms, materials, energies, etc. – to invest in innovations that respect the environment.

A bionic arm as flexible as a trunk

The flagship organ of the elephant can count up to 150,000 muscles and stands out for its flexibility, versatility, precision … These are the qualities sought after in artificial automation. Festo, the German specialist in the sector, therefore copied the proboscis of the pachyderm to create a robotic arm, allowing objects to be manipulated with a clamp or a hand equipped with adaptive fingers. Several bellows pneumatic segments are associated, such as compressed air chambers capable of elongating, retracting and deforming. The latest model of its kind can measure more than 1 meter for 8 centimeters in diameter.

Bionic arm
Bionic arm© DR

The TGV with a kingfisher’s “beak”

A rolling display of biomimicry, the Japanese Shinkansen was inspired by the kingfisher to optimize its aerodynamic properties. Between Tokyo and Fukuoka, in the southwest, the train saw its speed decrease and its noise increase as it passed through many tunnels. How can the impact of these changes in environment be reduced, causing noise pollution and energy loss? Using the kingfisher’s hyper-tapered beak and line as a model, designed to pass from air to water as discreetly as possible, without noise, shock or swirl. A streamlined design, invented by engineer and ornithologist Eiji Nakatsu, allows the TGV to improve its penetration into the air. The key: more comfort, more speed and a 15% reduction in electricity consumption.

A tidal turbine waving like an eel

In order to evolve quickly in an environment as dense as water, nothing like ripple. Based on this observation, the French start-up EEL Energy was inspired by the eel to design a new generation of tidal turbines without propellers. The result: a fiberglass and resin membrane 2 to 15 meters in length. It is connected to a generator which recovers the energy produced 24 hours a day thanks to interactions with the currents. Electricity production is 10 kWh per day, which is the daily consumption of two or three households. All without noise pollution, without emission of waste and without damaging aquatic fauna.

The Bat Bot
The Bat Bot© DR

The bat, a model of tomorrow’s drones

Despite its bad reputation, it has many qualities, including the ability to fly, exceptional in a mammal. American scientists have therefore worked on the properties of its wings (with 40 joints), their flexibility and their morphology, to create a flying robot: the Bat Bot. Equipped with extremely thin and stretchable silicone membrane wings (56 micrometers thick), this drone weighs 93 grams and exhibits tremendous agility thanks to sensory sensors. A source of inspiration for the entire airline industry.

“Replicating the living is a question of survival”

Kalina Raskin, Director General of the European Center of Excellence in Biomimicry (Ceebios)

What exactly is biomimicry?
Kalina Raskin. It is a matter of transferring knowledge from living things to human applications. Whether they are technological, scientific or even societal. It comes down to asking how to produce otherwise. And to rethink the world, with the living as a reference. Biomimicry has always existed, as evidenced by the inventions of Leonardo da Vinci, but the phenomenon has accelerated over the past fifty years with the development of processes allowing the study and replication of living things. Today is a question of survival.

What are the applications?
The field of possibilities is infinite. Each problem can be analyzed from the point of view of living things, which are by definition extremely sophisticated but energetically sober, with recourse to sustainable materials and a very low impact on the environment. An economy of resources towards which we must strive.

What are the obstacles to its development?
First, the accessibility of data, often described from a biological point of view but rarely from an engineering point of view. In the future, the idea is to promote multidisciplinarity by integrating biology with research and development (R&D) in all sectors, to accelerate the acquisition of knowledge. The mission of Ceebios is to support this movement and unite the various actors, to make France one of the leaders in biomimicry. With the overseas departments and territories, the country concentrates 10% of the world’s biodiversity. It is a tremendous national treasure.

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