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  • In 1989, Japan's Shinkansen Bullet Train had a problem.

  • It was fastreally fastlike, pushing 170 miles per hour fast.

  • But every time it exited a tunnelit was loud.

  • The noise was coming from a variety of sources, but whenever a train

  • sped into a tunnel, it pushed waves of atmospheric pressure through the other end.

  • The air exited tunnels with a sonic boom that could be heard 400 meters away.

  • In dense residential areas, that was a huge problem.

  • So, an engineering team was brought in to design a quieter, faster, and more efficient

  • train.

  • And they had one secret weapon: Eiji Nakatsuthe general manager of the technical development

  • departmentwas a birdwatcher.

  • Different components of the redesigned bullet train were based on different birds.

  • Owls inspired the pantographthat's the rig that connects the train to the electric

  • wires above.

  • Nakatsu modeled the redesign after their feathers, reducing noise by using the same serrations

  • and curvature that allow them to silently swoop down to catch prey.

  • The Adelie Penguinwhose smooth body allows it to swim and slide effortlesslyinspired

  • the pantograph's supporting shaft, redesigned for lower wind resistance.

  • And perhaps most notable of all was the Kingfisher.

  • The Kingfisher is a bird that dives into water to catch its prey.

  • The unique shape of its beak allows it to do that while barely making a splash.

  • Nakatsu took that shape to the design table.

  • The team shot bullets shaped like different train nose models down a pipe to measure pressure

  • waves, and dropped them in water to measure the splash size.

  • The quietest nose design was the one modeled most closely after the Kingfisher's beak.

  • When the redesign debuted in 1997, it was 10% faster, used 15% less electricity,

  • and stayed under the 70 dB noise limit in residential areas.

  • And it did all that with the wings of an owl, the belly of a penguin, and the nose of a

  • Kingfisher.

  • There's a name for design like this.

  • It's called biomimicry.

  • The people who design our world usually never take a biology class, believe it or not.

  • So they're novices in how the world works.

  • That's Janine Benyus.

  • Back in 1997, she wrote the book that coined the termBiomimicry”.

  • It told the story of the innovations in computing, energy, and health that were inspired by structures

  • in the natural world.

  • Stick like a gecko.

  • Compute like a cell.

  • Even run a business like a redwood forest.

  • Benyus has since worked as a consultant for various companies, trying to get them to understand

  • how to take design ideas from nature.

  • That might mean studying prairie dog burrows to build better air ventilation systems, mimicking

  • shark skin to create bacteria-resistant plastic surfaces for hospitals, or arranging wind

  • turbines in the same drag-reducing pattern that schools of fish swim in.

  • Designers get inspiration from a lot of different places, but Benyus thinks many of them could

  • benefit from looking more at the natural world.

  • So there's a lot of looking at what other people have done.

  • And what they do is, they look at all the others, and they get ideas.

  • They literally do, I mean, a lot of designers have lots of magazines that they look through,

  • they tear those out and they put them up on inspiration boards.

  • But they're looking at other human technologies.

  • Her idea was simple: designers should get in the habit of bringing a biologist to the

  • table, and let them help solve problems by mimicking nature.

  • And there are three main ways they can do that.

  • You can mimic its form, or its shape.

  • You might create a paint for a building that, when it dries, it's got the same structure

  • as self-cleaning leaves, lotus leaves are notoriously great, they let rainwater clean

  • the leaf because because they have these bumps and the rain water balls up on

  • the bumps, and then it pearls away the dirt.

  • So that lotus effect is physical, and you can create a physical structure on the outside

  • of any product.

  • Imagine that on the outside your car, rainwater would clean your car.

  • So that's mimicking form.

  • But there's also mimicking process, the processes of the natural world.

  • It might even be how you mimic how ants communicate in order to efficiently

  • find sources of food or new places to live. And those processes, that self-organization,

  • has been mimicked in software, in things like autonomous cars and how they're gonna move

  • in flocks through the city by talking to one another.

  • That's mimicking nature's process.

  • And then you jump up to the level of mimicking whole ecosystems.

  • There's a thing that's a buzzword right now, that's really hot, called the circular

  • economy, which is essentially industries saying there should be no such thing as a byproduct

  • in a manufacturing facility that goes to landfill.

  • It should be used by something else, and at the end of a product's life, that product

  • should be upcycled into something else. It's being called the circular economy.

  • Ecosystems do that really, really, really well.

  • You've got a log on the forest floor, and those materials move up into the body of the

  • fungus that eats it. Those materials move up

  • into a mouse.

  • And that mouse material moves up into a hawk...

  • And if you think about that as what we'd like to do with local materials being upcycled constantly.

  • In our cities, for instance.

  • Those ecosystem lessons are really big for us.

  • And that's the end goal for biomimetic designmaking products, systems, and cities functionally

  • indistinguishable from the natural world.

  • Life has been around on Earth for 3.8 billion yearsand what designers are starting

  • to realize is that's a lot of research and development time.

  • The people who design our world have a lot to learn from the natural world.

  • All they have to do is take a look.

  • Thank you so much for watching, this is one of a series of videos that we're doing in

  • collaboration with 99% Invisible.

  • They are a podcast that does stories all about design.

  • We loved working with them, you should definitely check them out at 99pi.org or on any podcast app.

In 1989, Japan's Shinkansen Bullet Train had a problem.

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B1 US Vox mimicking design natural world train world

The world is poorly designed. But copying nature helps.

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    Evangeline posted on 2018/04/24
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