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Nature Inspired Inventions and Engineering for Aviation

Humans have long been inspired by observing nature. Leonardo Da Vinci sketched several designs of potential flying machines based on the observation of birds.
Aviation technology has made dramatic changes since the first flight of the Wright Brothers.  Engineers now look back to the masters of the natural world to find clues for amazing breakthroughs in aviation design.  The following are just a few of the nature inspired improvements in aviation engineering and technology:
Morphing Wings
Birds and insects are able to adjust their wing size and shape while they fly. They have skeletal and vascular structures that morph into different shapes in order to compensate for the ideal conditions needed to maneuver effectively in the air. Engineers are experimenting with several creative designs that mimic the birds to adjust the wings of  aircraft in order to fit every stage of the flight mission.
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Perching
When birds come in for a landing, they execute a series of maneuvers and adjustments that allow them to make extremely accurate stops on difficult perches.  Birds do not use the standard, linear landings made by most aircraft. Engineers are testing how to recreate bird-like adjustments in speed and direction to help aircraft land safely and accurately.  The aircraft of the future may not need runways or brakes!   Bird morphing wings and perching behaviors  that are influencing aviation design are discussed in the 2011 abstract by Elvin Pineda from the University of Massachusetts.
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Juan lacruz
Winglets from Outstretched Eagle Wings
The wing-tips of Eagles and other birds have also caught the attention of several aviation engineers.  Several airplanes have been designed with adjustable wingtip mechanisms. This allows the aircraft to make slight adjustments to their wing tips to reduce the drag of the aircraft and improve efficiency and handling characteristics as well as enhance safety for following aircraft without increasing the wingspan. This also provides an increase in lift generated at the wingtip by smoothing the airflow and reducing the lift induced drag . The increased efficiency and reduced drag also improves fuel efficiency.
Lightweight Superstructure
The skeletal structures of bees and butterfly are extremely strong and light weight and able to form different shapes to allow the creatures to flutter from one flower to the next with great maneuverability and ease.  Engineers are examining designed aircraft using similar patterns that mimic the shapes and curves of bees and insects.  Birds also have well designed beaks and facial features that are being studied by engineers in order to make more aerodynamic designs.  These designs have also proved to be incredibly durable.
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Harryemi
Shark Skin

Flying creatures are not the only natural teachers that are schooling modern aviation engineers.  Sharks have a groovy skin that allows them to glide through the water with the greatest of ease.  Engineers copy these grooves in the hull design of aircraft in order to reduce wind drag and increase speed and efficiency.
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Noise Reduction

Engineers are on a constant quest to reduce airplane noise.  A number of creatures are giving lessons on how to keep the flying machines from disturbing the peace.  The pistol shrimp emits a loud crack sound to stun prey and confuse predators while tuning the frequency out of his own brain.  Bees position their honeycombs in a certain way to dampen sound. Owls are experts of stealth and silent flight.  Engineers are also taking a close look at creatures such as cicadas, butterflies, and fish to provide some insight on how to develop potential noise reduction technology.  Some of the ideas include retractable brush fringe and serrated  engine casings.
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Aviceda                                                                             Pdx.rollingthunder
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These are just a few ways of how engineers are looking to the time-tested methods of the natural world to design the flying machines of the future. That is the reason why companies like Boeing and Airbus are sending their engineers off on outdoor adventures to examine the genius of the natural world.  It just makes sense to take flight lessons from those that have been doing it for thousands of years!
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Scientific Discoveries and Inventions Inspired by Nature

There are amazing products, systems, and technologies that have been invented as a result of studying nature.  We learn a tremendous amount from observing the natural world and understanding how it works. These designs have been echoed in many different ways.  Here are just a few products that have come from nature’s design.  

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The Bullet Train

The Japanese Bullet train takes its design from the beak of the King Fisher and the plummage of the owl.  It makes it one of the fastest, most efficient passenger trains in the world.  This same inspiration is being used in various aircraft as well.

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Mullusc superglue

So if mussels and acorn barnacles can attach to to the side of rocks and concrete pilings and be able to withstand powerful tidal flows and waves of salt water, why can’t we make a glue that can do the same?  Well that is just what scientist are doing now. They are trying to figure out the chemical structure of the that  extremely powerful mullusc glue to use for practical human applications.

 

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Velcro

 

Velcro

In 1948 a Swiss electrical engineer named George de Mestral came up with the idea for velcro  when he was hunting in the Alps and began to examine the burrs sticking to his clothes from burdock.  He noticed the hundreds of hooks  when he examined the burrs under a microscope.  After several years of trial and error, he managed to come up with the design we know today and commercialize it.

 

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Gecko Tape

Manchester University Scientists came up with the design by studying the feet of Geckos. The tiny hair-like structures called setae allow the lizards to climb walls and ceilings. The tape uses the same type of hairs and has become a popular alternative to adhesive

 

 

 

 

 

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Bat Sonar Navigation inspires new products for the blind

By studying how bats communicate, scientists and inventors are creating new products for the blind including canes and sunglasses that communicate the distance to the user.  These new fascinating tools will revolutionize how the blind interpret their surroundings and may open new opportunities for  other inventions and drone robots in the future.        

We still have a lot to learn from nature.

What other inventions can we come up with from studying the genius of nature’s design?

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Nature Inspired Inventions and Engineering for Aviation

Top Scientist Engineers and Entrepreneurs Look to Nature for Inspiration and Guidance 

 


How to Tap into the Genius of Nature and Science to Create a Sustainable Future

This was one of the most inspirational TED talks that I have watched on nature and innovation.

Michael Pawlyn starts off by pointing out that a spider can make a material stronger than Kevlar using dead flies and water at ambient temperature and a wood beetle can detect fire 10 times farther away than any device designed by man without having to be attached to any power grid burning fossil fuels.

The talk goes on to show some amazing architectural design used for the Eden Project in England that was inspired by pollen grains. When finished, the structure was lighter than the air inside of it.

A visit to the Eden project is on my bucket list.

The main points of his talk are that we can approach the journey to a more sustainable future by learning from the genius of nature that exists all around us.

We can dramatically improve our use of resources by examining ancient systems that nature has developed over eons. Nature reuses and recycles every resource with incredibly efficient use of energy.

He goes on to illustrate some examples of groups that are mimicking nature’s methods to create closed loop systems from caviar, to worms, to horse manure, to sturgeons, and back to caviar.

He touches on reversing desertification by taking notes from the Nambian fog-basking beetle. There is also a segment that shows how to use sea water for irrigation and the leftover minerals as building materials.

There is a great point made that shows the sun gives us 10,000 times more energy than is used by all forms, so our energy solutions are just a challenge of engineering .

There were no pauses, “Ums”, “hems” or “haws” in his entire talk, and unlike many talks about sustainability which tend to be all gloom and doom, this was uplifting, positive and inspiring.

I first watched it a couple of years ago. Now the number of views has several more commas.

Michael Pawlyn Genius Design


What is Nature?

image- ducks taking flightNature is often considered as anything that is not made by humans. There are some problems with that definition as nature is used in everything made by humans. Humans are a part of nature and have affected everything on the planet. Part of the issue is thinking of humans and nature separately or man vs. nature. Humans like everything, are invariably connected to nature. There are dangers of thinking about protecting one or the other separately. When you start talking about protecting the plants and animals you also must consider protecting the people.

Nature’s Value

There is a system on putting a price or value on land and on homes and buildings. Often location and timber, minerals, can be given a monetary value. A lot of the value of nature is overlooked. It is not as easy to get a grasp. As people that need to earn a living, natural areas are often replaced by things that we can get a better understanding on.

Think of nature differently. For the nature lover, the value of beauty cannot be measured by monetary means. In fact, any attempt of putting a monetary value on beauty of nature is seen as blasphemy. Yet, the majority of the population does not see it that way.

This makes realizing the economic value of nature difficult for the policy makers who are under continuous pressure to create jobs and economic growth and individuals and families struggling
to make ends meet. It is much easier measure the economic value and tax revenue of real estate, factories, and raw materials. Those that seek to protect nature are seen as obstacles to progress and growth.

This could not be farther from the truth. If people knew the truth they would see that there is tremendous value in conservation. It may not be possible to put a price on beauty, but until the truth about economic value, job creation, education, health, and tax revenue of nature reaches the mainstream there will continue to be a divide.

Unless we begin to understand the value of nature in monetary terms it will be seen as standing in the way of economic progress by a large part of the human population.

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