The natural world and technology are often set against each other. However, they are not always working against each other, and are even often working together and inspired by each other in fascinating ways. Throughout human history, we have been inspired by the world around us and all of the creatures that inhabit it. From everything to bees to whales, animals of all sizes and shapes offer inspiration for technology due to their natural resources and adaptations to their environments. In an article by BBC, the author explored some of these animals and how they inspired different everyday inventions and technological advances. “A bird-watching engineer at a Japanese rail company took inspiration from a kingfisher’s beak to solve a problem with high speed trains. When they first were invented, high-speed trains had a real problem with noise, especially in tunnels. As they drive through, the air pressure builds up in waves and as the nose exits the tunnel there’s a loud noise. But an engineer re-designed the nose to be long and pointy like the kingfisher so the airwaves were gradually released instead.” Birds’ beaks as inspiration for a train is not a connection that one would immediately make, but it has been effective in cutting down the sound of these high speed trains. Yet another example of this inspiration are two marine animals, whales, and sharks. “Humpback whales might be heavy, but they’re actually very good swimmers. This is down to a row of warty ridges, called tubercles, on the front edge of their fins. These bumps help the whale to swim faster and change direction more easily. A scientist called Frank Fish spotted this and worked out a way of adding similar bumps to wind turbine blades. He found it made the turbines go faster when the wind changed direction, creating more power.” Whales and wind turbines are, once again, not necessarily a pair one might immediately think of. However, the sharks are much more related to the technology they helped inspire. “Sharks have amazing skin, which works to keep them clean of algae and other hitch-hiking sea creatures. Their skin has a special pattern on it called ‘dentricles’ which reduces drag and means they can glide through the sea easily. The shark skin caught the eyes of scientists at Nasa, who copied the patterns to create a special coating. They used it on American sailing boats in the Olympics to help them move faster through the water.” Other such pairs include dogs and Velcro, and geckos and gloves.
However, inspiration from animals for technological advances are only one way animals and technology work together. There are several other ways the two groups work together, and one such way is bomb detection. We all know about bomb sniffing dogs, and have seen them at events and other instances commonly. However, bomb detection bees are the newest addition to bomb detection animals. These bees work together with camera drones in order to detect where land mines may be buried and help to find them. “Thanks to the fact that they can pick up the scent of explosives with their antennae, researchers in countries such as Croatia have spent years perfecting how to use bees as landmine locators. But there’s a problem. As the insects whizz merrily about a mine-contaminated area, it’s extremely difficult for humans to keep track of where they go, not least because chasing bees across a minefield is not a great idea. That’s where the drones come in. A team from Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia have come up with a way of using drones to monitor the bees while they work. The unmanned aerial vehicles fly around, capturing footage of
the insects, which is later analyzed by computers to reveal where landmines may be hidden in the ground.”
Bees and dogs are not the only animals that offer a symbiotic relationship with humanity in interesting and new ways, and as time progresses, more of these partnerships will likely begin to grow and come out.