Mother Nature is a great innovator. In fact, one might argue that some of today’s most efficient technologies were not engineered, but rather, exist in nature as the byproducts of a little process called evolution.
As such, it comes as no surprise that scientists sometimes look to nature as a source of inspiration for their next innovations. One example that comes to mind is Rice University’s Project Squid Skin. This four-year, $6 million grant from the Office of Naval Research aims to develop “metamaterials” that emulate the camouflage techniques of a class of animals called cephalopods (which includes squid, octopus, and cuttlefish). Researchers plan to use patterns of organized nanostructures to create sheets of materials that can change colors quickly and “see” light in the same way that squid skins do.
Meanwhile, scientists at the University of Southampton are developing an underwater sonar device that would be able to detect objects through bubble clouds that normally scatter sound and clutter the sonar image. The inspiration for this research? Dolphins, which have been observed to create bubble nets that outsmart manmade sonar. “It occurred to me that either dolphins were blinding their sonar when making such nets, or else they have a better sonar system,” said Professor Timothy Leighton of the University’s Institute of Sound and Vibration Research (ISVR). Not a bad point.
Of course, marine life isn’t the only sector of the animal kingdom capable of setting exciting new technologies in motion. A German bionics company, Festo, designed a Bionic Handling Assistant (robotic arm) that was inspired by the elephant’s trunk. According to the company, the system could be useful for medical technology, rehabilitation, and in industrial environments. Not too shabby for an animal sometimes referred to as “Dumbo.”