The world is poorly designed. But copying nature helps.
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The world is poorly designed. But copying nature helps.

In 1989, Japan’s Shinkansen Bullet Train
had a problem. It was fast — really fast — like, pushing
170 miles per hour fast. But every time it exited a tunnel — it 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 Nakatsu — the
general manager of the technical development department — was a birdwatcher. Different components of the redesigned bullet
train were based on different birds. Owls inspired the pantograph — that’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 Penguin — whose smooth body allows
it to swim and slide effortlessly — inspired 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 term “Biomimicry”. 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 design
— making products, systems, and cities functionally indistinguishable from the natural world. Life has been around on Earth for 3.8 billion
years — and 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 or on any podcast app.

About Ralph Robinson

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100 thoughts on “The world is poorly designed. But copying nature helps.

  1. Truly truly, I say to you all, There is a Creator for all of this. The Creator should be MORE appreciated than the Creation itself.

  2. Ясно всем, что для аэродинамики нужно делать острый нос! Я бы вам за 500 баксов этот дизайн бы разработал.

  3. Great video.I knew that a lot of technology and objects were designed based on nature but this is a great explanation about the some of the principles and how they can be applied.

  4. Biomimicry actually makes perfect sense; because animals and plants and all other things in nature don't need human-engineered assistance, it means their innate structures and abilities are perfect blueprints.

  5. And who designed "Nature" ? God. Quran says repeatedly in Surah Al Rahaman: And which of these signs of your lord will you deny ?

  6. So human do not create, just take inspiration from nature…
    Thar's why we need to take care of that nature.

  7. All complex designs have a creator, a lot of people get recognized for creating new stuff based in nature, but who takes the credit for the nature designs that are even more complex?

  8. If technology, a copy, can give credit to nature, the original, who should get the credit for nature?

  9. Why use the term "poorly designed" while pushing the narrative of "not designed" and then draw our attention to the fact that copying the undesigned helps us improve our own designs?  

    Also… doesn't all design require compromise? Evolution is mindless, so it doesn't do research and development. Survival of the fittest… or just the luckiest?  

    Besides, what empirical observations have we made the demonstrate that the progressive evolutionary story is even possible, let alone true?

    Don't mind me! I'm just… thinking.

  10. I think we’ve been on the wrong path, thinking we’re above nature. Now we’re finally moving back into the right direction, the way Mother Earth intended for us to live.

  11. The Difference between Animals and Humans:
    Humans design to protect ourselves from the natural world.
    Animals design to synergize with the natural world.

  12. I really can't take arrogance of people who denies the possibilty of an ultimate intelligent designer..or they say they dont fact they shud ask who is he, where is he.

  13. I think they are stretching their imagination here a little bit. The way computer systems communicate between each other is not in any way inspired by ants, or any other animals. Just to name one example. I mean…I understand they are trying to justify the fact that there are so many biologists around who are desperately trying to prove their usefulness 🙂

  14. If nature gets destroyed entirely in the future then the world goes to sh*t.scientists or engineers wont know how ants avoid traffic and apply it on auto cars ,scientists wont know how certain species are immune to certain virus and use it for maybe a vaccine to save peope,etc

  15. The universe and everything in it was designed…. for a purpose. By a grand intelligent designer… it was not designed to last tho… also for a purpose…

  16. The idea of biomimicry is a really good idea, but do you really need to be a biologist to understand that copying nature will help design. Im pretty sure anybody could think of the idea that an organism will be more fit for the world after so many years of adapting and natural selection. Its just the matter of the lightbulb lighting up in your head.

  17. This is literally how we solve global warming. There is this agricultural system called permaculture (permanent agriculture) that tries to mimic nature entirely. It is basically a circle where nothing goes to waste, and although it requires a lot of time and effort, time and effort is what we need. Global warming didn't happen in just a second, it is the result of us and our ancestors' way of life for thousands of years that caused it. Applying permaculture to farms, moving to sustainable and renewable energies, and using every item we generate instead of throwing it away in the trash is a way to stop climate change.

  18. All you have to do is copy or follow the Creators design, laws, everything, etc… Humans = What if we do this, that, here or over there.

  19. A well-structured video. First, you explain an event which gives a magnificent solution to a problem. Then you start to talk about something related to that and finally, you give your main idea about the topic. Very well done. Definitely liked the video

  20. This video was extremely inspirational! I really love things like this and it helped me change my way of creating and developing projects

  21. Of course we engineers need to mimic the nature, think about it, you are learning from the greatest creator! The one and only true God! Praise the Lord!

  22. Science will always try to mimic Gods creation. Everything made is an innovation. The world wasn’t poorly designed. Man cannot create a world where one can sustain life. If we could, we would be on the Moon already and colonizing it.

  23. My g it’s cause nature knows it’s way around this world better than any man made machine will, so of course animals are always gonna get around faster than us, but it’s cool that we’re learning from them despite the fact that we barely make an effort to save em

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