Biomimicry: How Nature Inspires Smart Design


Biomimicry: How Nature Inspires Smart Design


Since climate change had become almost a buzzword, many of us lost hope for solving the actual crisis and its negative effects on ecosystems across the world. The planet is getting stressed and so are we. In all of this mess, we seem to forget that when looking for solutions for this issue, all we need to do is look around carefully, because we have them ready, functioning well, waiting for us to get some inspiration from them.

For all the challenges we face, nature has a solution.

Instead of exploiting nature, we could treat it as our mentor and see what can we learn from it by reconnecting with the natural world. Innovators seeking breakthrough solutions tend to ignore the greatest source of inventive and smart ideas: nature.

And this is why some of the designers, developers, and businessmen turn to what is called Biomimicry.

Biomimicry is the science of applying nature-inspired designs in engineering and invention to solve human problems. It is a practice that learns from and mimics the biological strategies possible to observe. The goal is to create materials, products, processes, and policies — new ways of living — that solve our greatest design challenges sustainably and in solidarity with all life on Earth. By doing so we work towards regaining the balance with nature and not to continue producing global problems.

Nature is always fighting to use limited resource most effectively to exist with, and we are entering that era ourselves.

— says Dr. Rupert Soar, a lecturer at Nottingham Trent University, UK, and engineer at company 3D Blume.

Aside from the reasoning to be environmentally friendly, businesses have other incentives to utilize biomimetic solutions. Applying biomimicry allows us to “do more with less” — increasing profit due to more effective production while decreasing costs and workload.

“When we look at what is truly sustainable, the only real model that has worked over long periods of time is the natural world.”

— Janine Benyus. Watch her TED talk here.

Biomimicry is about valuing nature for what we can learn, not what we can extract, harvest, or domesticate. In the process, we learn about ourselves, our purpose, and our connection to each other and our home on Earth.

Biomimicry in use: Examples

Nature holds endless inspiration for us when seeking solutions to nearly any issue. More and more innovations recently derive from where we all came from in the first place.

Here are just a few:


1.Neri Oxman — Wanderers: An Astrobiological Exploration

Neri Oxman’s team at MIT Media Lab has created four 3D-printed “wearable skins” designed to facilitate synthetic biological processes that might one day allow humans to survive on other planets (on to stay on our own if air pollution continues to progress).

neri oxman

Mushtari is designed to interact with the atmosphere on Jupiter and is shaped from a continuous translucent strand formed into layers that look like animal intestines.

These suits (each one created to work on a different planet in the Earth’s solar system) are inspired by biological organisms that synthesise particles from the air and transform them into nutrition beneficial for their bodies.

“With this collection, we have designed spatially and materially complex wearables pointing towards the possibility of containing living matter that can interact with the environment.” — Neri Oxman

Oxman’s constructions consist of a net of thin pipes injected with bio-matter, that is imagined to, using synthetic biology, “transform oxygen for breathing, photons for seeing, biomass for eating, biofuels for moving and calcium for building.”

“The future of wearables lies in designing augmented extensions to our own bodies, that will blur the boundary between the environment and ourselves”.
— said Oxman.


Al-Qamar (left) is designed as a “wearable biodome”. Fitted around the neck and over the shoulders, the exterior is made up of pods for algae-based air purification and biofuel collection to produce and store oxygen. For survival on Mercury, Otaared (right) creates a protective exoskeleton around the head that can be custom-fit to the wearer.

2. Wind turbines — Inspired by Humpback whales’ flippers

After studying Humpback whales’ flippers, fins, and tails, scientists and engineers from Whalepower have come up with a radical innovation for a more energy-effective blade design that has proven to increase annual electrical production by 20% alongside great noise reduction. According to MIT, these blades help to generate the “same amount of power at 10 miles per hour that conventional turbines generate at 17 miles per hour.”

This technology can also be applied to fans, pumps, and compressors, offering improvements in the conservation and collection of renewable energy.

whale underwater
whale above the water

sources: & &

Read more about the “angle of attack” — the key feature of Humpback whales’ flippers that enabled this design here.

3. Efficient Color Electronic Screens — Inspired by the Wing of a Butterfly

A butterfly’s wings are one of nature’s most exceptional materials. These incredibly complex and advanced structures are able to reflect light in such a way that enables specific wavelengths to interfere with each other and thus create intensely vivid colours.


Careful investigation of this process provided engineers from Qualcomm with inspiration for new technology. By mimicking this effect, they’ve been able to develop a way to produce coloured electronic screens that are extremely efficient and can be viewed under any light conditions and at various angles.

mac computers
butterfly wing

sources: Britannica & Business Insider

4. Bionic Robots with Artificial Intelligence by Festo Company

Markus Fischer and his team at Festo draw inspiration from the delicate anatomy of living organisms to design and engineer mechanical systems inspired by their movement.

“We get inspired by nature by searching for fascinating principles in biology and solutions to technical problems.” — Elias Knubben, head of corporate bionic projects at Festo, said in a phone interview for CNN.

bionic robot 01
bionic robot 02
bionic robot 03
bionic robot 04
bionic robot 05
bionic robot 06

What’s the purpose? Let’s have a look at the ants and their technological equivalents: BionicANTs. These creatures work together under clear rules. They communicate, coordinate and change their actions among each other in harmony. Just like them, artificial ants can be a system that consists of autonomous individual components which are able to solve a complex task together working as an overall networked system.

If we think about the use of it, this cooperative behaviour provides interesting approaches for the factory of tomorrow. Future production systems that are founded on intelligent components, which adjust themselves flexibly to various production scenarios and thus take on tasks from a higher control level, maintaining the efficient workflow and supply. How does that sound?

bionic robot 1
bionic robot 2
bionic robot 3
bionic robot 4

Source: Festo. Watch a TED talk about these robots here.


1. The Eastgate Centre / Harare, Zimbabwe

The Eastgate Centre is a shopping centre and office building, at the same time being one of the best green architecture and ecologically sensitive solutions example. The building was designed by Mick Pearce in collaboration with Arup engineers on the basis of biomimicry principles. It draws inspiration from indigenous Zimbabwean masonry and the self-cooling mounds of African termites.

termites mound

Its phenomenon comes from the fact, that despite the lack of conventional fule-based air-conditioning or heating systems, the building stays temperature-regulated throughout the year with impressively low energy consumption. It is designed to exploit more passive and energy-efficient mechanisms of self-cooling.

Figure 01
Figure 02

Read more about the cooling system here.

2. The Gherkin / London, UK

Completed in 2004, the 180m tower has an air ventilation system similar to sea sponges and anemones. They feed by infiltrating seawater that they direct to flow through their bodies. Similarly, the iconic London’s skyscraper, is supported by an exoskeleton structure that is designed to enable ventilation flows through the entire building.

“This was one of the first environmentally progressive buildings in the UK city of London.” — says Tang of 30 St Mary Axe.

gherkin closeup
gherkin top

sources: & &

Thank you for reading!

Justyna Cyrankiewicz
With love, HOO KOO E KOO