Madrid / 9 April 2020
Nature is an inexhaustible source of inspiration and a true example of adaptation to the most extreme environments. The silent flight of owls and the bioluminescence of fireflies are amazing examples that humans have copied in technology. Millions of years of natural trial and error have served as a model for numerous advances in science and engineering.
More recently, in the 1940s, we had one of the best-known proponents of biomimetics: George de Mestral. After taking a walk, he noticed how thistle seeds had become entangled in his dog's fur. On closer examination, he discovered that the seeds had little hooks; that inspired a process of invention that resulted in the first hook-and-loop fastener, known worldwide as Velcro.
Engineers drew inspiration from the silent flight of owls to develop DinoTails, a solution that Siemens Gamesa uses on its onshore wind turbines to reduce the noise produced by the blades
Biomimetics has also found applications in transport. Japan's famous bullet train put the country to the forefront in terms of technology. However, it encountered serious problems. Because of its enormous power, a huge volume of compressed air built up in front of the train, creating a sound like a gunshot. The engineers found the solution in a tiny multicoloured bird: the kingfisher. The tapered nose of the new bullet train locomotives emulates the aerodynamic beak of the kingfisher, which is able to exceed 70 kilometres per hour on high-precision flights at water level.
And despite the substantial difference in the use of wings, aeronautics has learned much from the flight of birds. A perfect example is the flaps on the front edge of aircraft wings, which improve stability in flight; they were inspired by the alulas, a group of feathers on bird wings. Located on the front edge of the wing, corresponding to our thumb, the alulas increase lift at low speed by reducing turbulence.