Car tyres inspired by a cat’s paws; a luxury car designed like a boxfish; an elephant-inspired tsunami early warning device. These are instances of technologies developed using biomimicry — a concept that uses nature as a model and a measure to evolve designs and processes in architecture, product development, chemistry, and infrastructure.
Janine Benyus (51), an American biologist and co-founder of the US-based Biomimicry Guild, was in Mumbai to explain ways in which life can imitate nature for sustainable development.
For the past 15 years, biomimicry has emerged as a design discipline in Europe, US, Japan and China.
For instance, Japan’s bullet train was modelled on a kingfisher’s beak so as to reduce the sonic impact of air after it emerged from tunnels and to cut down electricity use by 10 per cent.
The kingfisher’s bill eliminates impact as it strikes water for finding fish.
“Nature provides us with 3.8 billion years of well-adapted technology. When faced with a problem, we should ask ourselves, what does nature do about it,” said Benyus, the recipient of the United Nations’ Champion of the Earth award in science and innovation.
Her organisation, founded in 1998, has serviced several Fortune 500 companies to mimic the “technology of the natural world.”
Benyus is helping Lavasa, India’s first hill city being developed between Mumbai and Pune, become the world’s first city to incorporate biomimicry principles.
Benyus said, “We have set ecological performance standards for Lavasa. It will have to perform the same ecosystem services as its native ecosystem.”
Benyus’s research team has studied the local ecology to be replicated in the city’s infrastructure.
For instance, Lavasa’s structures will use protective building paint inspired by the lotus flower’s self-cleaning mechanism which turns water into balls that run off its surface along with dirt.
Ajit Gulabchand, chairman of Lavasa Corporation Ltd, said, “Biomimicry can not only preserve and restore the ecology of an urban centre but prove to be a cheaper development alternative in the long run.”