In your ideal world, best case scenario, how long would a product or invention go through testing and development before being released? How does 3.7 billion years sound?
Biomimicry is the practice of taking engineering and design inspiration from the natural world. One of the most famous examples of biomimicry is the Shinkansen bullet train in Japan. In 1989, the Shinkansen bullet train had a problem. It was fast, 160 mph fast, but whenever it exited a tunnel, it was heralded by a sonic boom that could be heard 400 metres away. A team of engineers was brought in to design a quieter, faster and more efficient train. They had a secret weapon- Eiji Nakatsu, their general manager was a birdwatcher.
By taking inspiration from an owl’s feathers, they reduced the noise generated by the train. By taking inspiration from a penguin’s belly, they reduced the drag. But the greatest impact was taking the shape of a kingfisher’s beak, and modelling the train’s nose cone to match. A kingfisher’s beak enters water at high speeds with minimal splashing – making it the perfect shape to stop those pesky sonic booms.
You might be wondering what we can do with biomimicry in the automotive field. Are we going to swap the wheels out for legs and mimic the cheetah? What’s the miles per gallon on a peregrine falcon?
You might be surprised to find out that automotive manufacturers have been using biomimicry for the past 20 years.
In 2005, Mercedes Benz unveiled the Bionic Car – designed to mimic the hydrodynamic (and therefore aerodynamic) properties of the Yellow Boxfish – which was surprisingly streamlined despite its boxy shape.
While the Bionic Car never moved past the concept stage (it is pretty ugly!), it did provide exceptional aerodynamics when compared to its size, and we would argue that you can see its influence on the design of Mercedes vans today.
Brake discs have drawn inspiration from the wings of an owl and the shell of a locust to improve durability and reduce noise while braking. Suspension has been redesigned based on the properties of climbing vines. Cab faring has been redesigned based on the skin of a seal!
There are billions of lessons that we could learn from nature and apply to automotive design – and other aspects of automotive as well! Take a look at this leaf:
The lotus leaf’s surface texture causes water to bead up and roll right off, picking up any dirt and impurities on the leaf as it flows over the surface. One day someone clever will figure out how to get paint to dry with the same surface as a lotus leaf, and from that point on, your car will wash itself every time it rains.