At the turn of the last century, the Japanese bullet train made a deafening sound every time it came out of a tunnel. Technological advances had made it possible to create an incredibly fast but noisy train. This problem dwarfed the achievements of a vehicle that symbolized technical advances.
Fortunately, engineer Eji Nakatu was an animal lover and an active member of the Japan Wild Bird Society. He decided to look for solutions in nature and found them in the kingfisher, a bird that, due to its shape, encounters little resistance when submerged in water.
After carrying out several tests, the results proved him right: imitating the shape of the kingfisher reduced the noise of the bullet train while significantly increasing its speed and aerodynamics.
The bird train
Japan is famous for the incredible speed and efficiency of its trains, when the famous bullet train started running, they realized there was a huge problem: with its speed of 300 km/h, every time it emerged from a tunnel it generated a roar that could be heard 400 meters away.
The train compressed the air in the tunnel in such a way that, when it left, it produced a great explosion of sound.
The humpback whale weighs 36 tons but is one of the most graceful swimmers, divers, and leapers in the sea. As biomechanic Frank Fish demonstrated 15 years ago, these dynamic abilities are due in large part to irregular bumps on the front of their fins, called tubercles.
As with airplane wings, whales set their fins at different angles of inclination to increase the rate of climb. However, if you tilt them too far, they get suspended. By comparing the smooth side to that of the bulges, Fish found that it was possible to design more stable aircraft, more agile submarines, and turbines capable of capturing more energy from the wind and water.
In 2008, Fish founded WhalePower, an Ontario, Canada-based company that develops a range of blade-related technology products, including wind and hydroelectric turbines, and irrigation and ventilation pumps.
Tenacious as a thistle
In 1948, Swiss engineer George de Mestral was walking through the woods with his dog when he noticed the tenacity with which thistles clung to his clothes and the hair of his pet.
Putting one of these caltrops under the microscope, he noticed that they were covered with small flexible hooks.
These hooks had the ability to attach to anything with curves or loops, from the fabric of clothing to the fur of dogs.
Termites on a large scale
The Eastgate Center in Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, is the largest example of large-scale biomimicry. It is the largest commercial and office centre in the country. It uses unconventional heating and cooling systems that regulate the temperature throughout the year.
For this, the architect Mick Pearce was inspired by the ingenious structure of termite mounds. These mounds stay cool because they have a ventilation system made up of ducts that open and close, thus regulating air currents.
The building uses a similar process, allowing it to use 10% of the energy used by other buildings of a similar size, according to Pearce’s website.5
It is estimated that 100 million birds die annually when crashing against the glass. The reason is obvious: they are not able to recognize that the transparent structure is a physical barrier. To solve this problem, the German company Arnold Glas developed Ornilux, a type of glass that is inspired by how the threads of spider webs reflect ultraviolet light, something that birds see and avoid.
Shark Skin Coat
By analyzing the biological processes of shark skin, NASA scientists were able to replicate its texture, which resembles tiny scales. Thus they created a material that decreases aerodynamic resistance and prevents bacteria from adhering to its surface. This is very useful for the hull of ships or submarines. It also has environmental benefits because it helps conserve energy and saves money by reducing aerodynamic drag.
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