Steve Jobs said, “I think the biggest innovations of the 21st century will be at the intersection of biology and technology. A new era is beginning.” One of those innovations is the science of biomimicry. Biomimicry applies strategies successfully utilized by nature to solve human problems. Using biomimicry, scientists follow models found in nature to design and produce materials, structures and systems that benefit human lives.
Janine Benvus, the co-founder of the Biomimicry Institute, believes that biomimicry will be an important factor in sustainable innovation in the future. Fields such as engineering, product design, transportation, medicine and business have already benefited from its sustainable, cost-saving potential.
Biomimicry in Medicine
In 1976, only 5 percent of staph infections were resistant to antibiotics; that number has risen to 50 percent today. It’s estimated that 23,000 people of the 2 million infected by drug-resistant bacteria die each year in the United States alone. Nature may provide the solution to the bacterial infections that have become increasingly deadly for humans.
Scientists have discovered that shark skin possesses a remarkable ability to resist bacteria. On sharks, microscopic textures so small they can only be measured in microns actively repel barnacles, algae, and 90 to 99.9 percent of bacteria.
Sharklet Technologies plans to copy those mathematical patterns to create bacteria – and germ- deflecting surfaces. Investors see the potential for those surfaces in the manufacture of a wide variety of items. It could result in bacteria-resistant telephones, computer keyboards, countertops, and even shared office furniture.
Biomimicry in Architecture
Extreme temperatures result in a great number of human deaths every year. Heating and cooling costs are a contributing factor in many cases. Ironically, many heating and cooling methods contribute to an increase in extreme temperatures over time. Termites may provide the solution. They build dens that stay a comfortable 87 degrees, even when surrounding temperatures fluctuate between 30 to 100 degrees.
Architect Mick Pearce studied the tunnels of termite dens and applied the same principles to his design for the 333,000-square-foot Eastgate Center. His building has large chimneys, like those found in termite dens, that draw in cool air at night and penetrate floor slabs to help keep the structure cool during the day. The Eastgate Center uses 90 percent less energy for heating and cooling than traditional buildings.
Biomimicry in Computing
It turns out that honeybees can assist in the development of computer servers as well. Sunil Nakrani and Craig Tovey of the University of Oxford, wrote a very interesting paper detailing how honeybee colonies utilized their foragers to maximize the colony’s nectar gathering. In the paper, the researchers note that honeybees have a limited time during the year to gather pollen. The honeybees must quickly adapt to unknown an unknown quantity and quality of pollen in various flower patches. ‘
When a bee visits a given flower patch, it gathers information such as quality of nectar and direction of the patch from the hive. As it returns to the hive, it disseminates this information to other honeybees using a ‘dance’, called a waggle dance. The bee uses the waggle dance to provide quality and direction to the hive.
The paper notes heavy similarities between problems honeybee colonies face and problems virtual hosting servers face. As a hosting server attempts to locate an internet hosting account to provide service to, it is at that point in time not earning revenue. Similarly, if too many honeybees are seeking out quality flower patches instead of collecting nectar, their rate of “profitability” to the hive will decrease.
Utilizing this information, the researchers developed a Biometric Server Ensemble Algorithm. The algorithm helps servers communicate revenue potential with other servers. The other servers in the “hive” can then use optimal revenue information to decide where to provide service to without using up vast amounts of resources to gather the information independently.
While humans are often regarded as the most intelligent species, it seems that other species have many lessons to share with us. These lessons can be found in a myriad of applications, including medicine, architecture and computing. Fortunately, many of those lessons are proving to be life-improving and life-saving.