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Jellyfish, Eyelids Among Inspiration for 8 Winners of 2018 Biomimicry Global Design Challenge

The giant lobelia (Lobelia deckenii) plants in the foreground and giant groundsel (Dendrosenecio kilimanjari) plants in the background of this photo were the inspiration for a mesh that will protect tea plants from frost damage in Kenya. | Image credit: The Seedy Business

From soil erosion solutions that draw inspiration from natural tide pools and a kingfisher’s eyelid, to technologies that use protection methods developed by plants, the winners of this year’s Biomimicry Global Design Challenge present some truly creative solutions inspired by nature.

The Challenge invites innovators to learn how to use biomimicry — the process of looking to nature for design inspiration — to develop solutions to reverse, mitigate, or adapt to climate change. Biomimicry draws from nature’s time-tested strategies that can be applied to a variety of challenges related to energy, water, transportation, buildings and infrastructure, food systems, health, and more. The Challenge provides an opportunity to learn biomimicry by applying it in action to pressing environmental issues, and the chance to bring solutions closer to market in the Biomimicry Launchpad, an accelerator program that culminates in a competition for the $100,000 Ray C. Anderson Foundation Ray of Hope Prize®.

”Nature’s blueprints are inspiring breakthroughs that change the way we think about innovation,” said John Lanier, executive director of the Ray C. Anderson Foundation, a major funder of the Challenge. “Reversing climate change means more than solar panels and wind turbines; it means reimagining everything, and after three years of working with teams in this Challenge, we are convinced biomimicry is the future of design.”

Eight winners were selected to receive cash prizes and invitations to the 2018-19 Biomimicry Launchpad from the over 60 teams from 16 countries that submitted their biomimetic inventions.

Full Circle – Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.

This team from Georgia Tech created a nature-inspired energy generator that produces clean renewable electricity from underwater sea currents. The design was informed by the bell-shaped body of jellyfish, how schools of fish position themselves, how heart valves move liquid, and how kelp blades are adapted to rapidly flowing water and maximize photosynthesis.

HABARI – Utrecht, The Netherlands

This University of Utrecht-based team created an automated, open-source design to protect tea plants from frost damage. Climate change has resulted in more unpredictable night frosts in Kenya, which damages tea plantations and leads to economic losses and unstable incomes for farmers. Inspired by the giant groundsel (Dendrosenecio kilimanjari) and giant lobelia (Lobelia deckenii) plants, both native to Kenya, the team developed HABARI to automatically deploy a mesh where frost deposits, covering the plants and preventing the frost from settling on the leaves.

Mist Generation + PACE – Taichung City, Taiwan

In order to make the air quality in outdoor public spaces better, this team of graduate students at Tung Hai University created an air-cleaning device that is incorporated into signage on city buildings. These solar-powered signs have filtering mechanisms inspired by marine creatures like salpidae, paddlefish, and peacock worms, and derived their energy strategy from prairie dog burrows, the Saharan silver ant’s light-reflecting capabilities and more.

ECOncrete – Tel-Aviv, Israel

This team of marine biologists, engineers, designers, and geologists studied natural tide pools, rocky shores and oyster beds to develop a better way to create resilience in coastal zones most at risk for climate change-related issues. Rather than replace natural habitats like a conventional breakwater or seawall, ECOncrete’s fully functional and constructive coastal defense unit encourages growth of diverse plants and animals native to the project’s environment.

Soil Erosion by Nature – Chonquing, China

This team worked to develop a way to combat soil erosion problems resulting from the Three Gorges Dam in China—the world’s largest hydropower station. They developed a mesh structure device based on how the dancing white lady spider (Leucorchestris arenicola) stabilizes loose sand in their burrows using silk and the kindfisher’s “third eyelid,” a protective, retractable layer that covers the bird’s eyes while it plunges into water. The device covers soil while it is submerged in water and can be retracted after the water level is lowered, ensuring that it will not affect plant growth and damage the ecosystem.

GenRail – Long Beach, California, U.S.

This California State University at Long Beach team developed GenRail to harness wind generated on urban freeways and convert it into energy, essentially creating a wind farm in an urban environment. The team replicated the compressible elasticity of the cockroach to create safe impact zones, mimicked the California condor’s wing shape to help create energy harnessing fans, and gathered inspiration from the structure of the desert snail shell to create a system of vacuums aided by the venturi effect propelling the wind forward and providing extra power for the city.

UPod – Ithaca, New York, U.S.

This Cornell University team created the UPod, a mosquito-control device inspired by the mechanism of the carnivorous Utricularia vulgaris plant. Similar to how the plant traps prey, the UPod is a solar-powered device that pulls water and larvae into a tightly-sealed water chamber by means of a trap door that functions through a smart sensor mechanism. Larvae are suffocated in the water chamber, and then pumped out as new water and larvae are pulled in. The device can help control larvae populations and prevent the spread of mosquito-borne diseases.

Phalanx Insulation – Long Beach, California, U.S.

This team, also from California State University at Long Beach, developed a biomimicry-inspired insulation grid meant to be applied to exterior walls of existing buildings in urban coastal regions such as Southern California. The system is designed to reduce interior temperatures of buildings passively without the need for electricity. It has three layers: a shade grid layer with wavy patterns and a reflective surface inspired by the cactus and Saharan silver ant; an air channel layer inspired by cathedral termites that directs hot air up and out of the system; and a capillary layer inspired by the Saharan camel and wheat that can collect the morning dew from the air or pull up gray water from an underlying trough.

A new round of the Biomimicry Global Design Challenge will open in September 2018, providing a new opportunity for teams to learn about biomimicry, develop climate change solutions, and compete for a spot in the Launchpad and the $100,000 Ray of Hope Prize.


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