Biomimicry, as defined on dictionary.com, is the imitation of a natural environment’s efficiency and survival mechanisms. The role of biomimicry in the development of human technology has long been paramount, from the study of birds by Leonardo Di’Vinci and later The Wright Brothers, which gave us the gift of flight, to a more modern (1980s) investigation of Humpback Whales by Zoologist, Frank Fish, who found bumps on the edge of the whale’s fins, called tubercles, improved the efficiency of the blades of wind turbines. You had a slight increase in lift, a real delay in stall, and there was no drag penalty. Fish noted in a paid article by GE in the NY Times, called, How Nature is Inspiring our Industrial Future.
The article also mentioned how in the 90’s, research and development engineer Eric Bonabeau looked to ants to improve the complex issue of routing communication signals through a given number of pathways. In looking at the ants, Bonabeau noticed what has been termed, swarm intelligence, which basically is the process by which the ants who found the shortest distance between food and the home, by laying pheromones in their tracks permit other ants to follow the same route. The first trail that became doubled-coated with pheromones was naturally the shortest, and became the preferred course of direction. Bonabeau was able to model this swarm intelligence into software, which like the ants, could create a conversation amidst millions of communication signals, to discover and report which routes were preferable, and channel information accordingly.
In an article published in the Wall Street Journal by Chief Information Security Officer at DeLoitte Touch Tohmatsu, Ltd (DTTL), J.R. Reagan discusses ways in which Biomimcry, also known as Biomemetics, can function in instances of cyber security. Reagan touched on the ants as well and their pheromone trails, pointing out swarm intelligence is currently useful for detecting anomalous behaviors in cyber systems, where digital ants drop markers similar to the ants use of pheromones in food paths, to engage pattern recognition and potentially gauge thresholds of suspected threatening behavior.
Mark Cutkosky, a professor of mechanical engineering at Stanford University is studying the adhesive quality of geckos feet and applying its directionally sensitive composition to enable robots to climb glass and metal walls. Cutkosky observes that when a gecko hangs from a wall, it twists its back feet causing a suction to occur based on the direction it is leaning, moving in any other direction immediately releases the suction effect, enabling an on-and-off grip, a feet here-to-for encumbered by the need to pull it off, once you’d stuck it on. Directional adhesion for robots is only the initial step; in the work is Z-Man, a technology that aims to apply these scaling abilities on glass and metal for humans. Cutkosky collaborates with many scientists around the world, and the National Science Foundation and the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) fund his research.
We’ve seen how biomimicry is applicable in diverse and relevant social sectors: energy, national defense, and digital security being a few, but how can biomimicry be applied to better care for our indoor gardens and amphibians? Biopod applies biomimetic research of the systemic characteristics in rain forests to intelligently modulate its smart habitats, essentially mirroring similar amounts of sunlight, airflow, and moisture of the natural environment. This approximation requires a combination of conditions, including the presence of native flora, specific wavelengths of UV radiation, as well as time-released airflow and measured misting patterns. Let’s take a closer look at how these smart pods behave.
Mirroring the conditions of the sun is no small task. For one, sunlight emits a lot more kinds of light than just the light we can see with our eyes. Within this vast spectrum of light, only the tiniest portion is visible to the naked eye, (lying roughly between 380-730 nanometers). Going one step shorter in wavelengths from visible light you arrive at Ultra Violate rays (UV rays), and continue on from there to the shortest Gamma rays. Going one step longer than visible light you arrive at Infrared waves, and continue on from there out the longest and slowest AM radio waves. Though this spectrum of light is vast, the sweet spot of visible light to generate photosynthesis is what plants depend on. This sweet spot is called Photosynthetically Active Radiation (PAR). PAR designates the spectral range of solar radiation necessary in order to generate the process of photosynthesis in photosynthetic organisms lies between 400-700 nanometers. Biopod’s come with Light Emitting Diodes (LED’s) that generate a continuous wavelength output between 400-800 nanometers, with two main peaks between 420-450 nm, and 630-650 nm, and a minor peak between 540-570 nm, a process that mimics the a daily photo-period cycle. By emulating the varied intensity of sunlight throughout a day, Biopod’s approximate nature’s settings.
Natural sunlight also puts out UV rays, which is typically injurious to plants, and for which they develop a defense mechanism, which incidentally increases the nutrient levels of the organism, thereby making for better food. This is helpful if you are growing plants for consumption. Also, your pet amphibian depends on UV rays to produce Vitamin D3 in the body, which keeps their bones strong. Lizards, snakes, geckos and other reptiles all need UV light not only for strength, but to stimulate appetite, and improve their visibility. Amphibians can see UV light between 300-400 nm, but according to Doctors Foster and Smith, require UV light between 290-320 nm in order to serve its primary vitamin D3 production purpose. Biopod’s come with a UV-ray emitting CCFL which emits UVB waves, or Ultra-Violet B-Waves, spanning specifically between 295-305 nanometers, in order to hit that doctor recommended UV range, and even stay center of that marginal range. UV light higher than 320 nm that will make them too hot and reduce the ability to make D3, and lower than 290 nm will cause a synthesis of D3, neither of which helps your pet’s biological processes. By applying LED and CCFL lighting technologies in cycles in synch with the sun, Biopod illuminates the experience of its inhabitants as if it were in a truly natural setting.
In nature’s playground, not only light intensity, but temperature, humidity and precipitation naturally undulate. Fun fact: the tropical rainforests your flora or fauna are used to cover only 11.5% of the earth’s land, but store in their biomass more than 50% of the earth’s rainfall! Due to the unique traits of such habitats, the specific humidity and precipitation levels necessary to replicate these tropical environments was calculated by Biopod based on over fifty years of research. Also, Biopod employs real time sensors in its habitats to gauge each of these specific elements (light, temperature, humidity and precipitation), adjusting as necessary and in an evolving pattern, to continually seek the most hospitable environment (homeostasis) for your plants and pets. For one, the temperature of the air, and the temperature of the ground in a tropical setting are different due to varying levels of sunlight and humidity. To account for this, Biopod has one sensor for the air temperature and another for the ground substrate (be it partial vegetation, all vegetation or only water), to maintain a variation. Further more, since Biopod is receiving real-time remotely accessed data with respect to the levels of light, heat, airflow, and humidity, in your terrarium, it is able to adjust for a deficiency or excess in any of these elements nearly as effortlessly as nature herself.
The future of biomimicry is fertile. Not just the bird’s wing, the whale’s fin, and the Gecko’s foot but a myriad of other natural technologies, landscapes, and characteristics can be mimicked and successfully learned from. For example, architectural durability in the face of natural disasters, water conservation during drought seasons, and intelligent food cultivation methods are just a few of the relevant domains where biomimicry is eminently relevant. The Biopod is one humble step in this noble direction for both plant and pet care. Perhaps, if we may see the forest from the trees for a moment, one day humans could construct entire cities built like Biopods, where the buildings behave more like organisms than architecture, and through real-time measurements and constantly regulated parameters, we could create systems which learn from, and improve the bridge between natural functions and human dwelling spaces. The opportunity to step up your ecological game is not only for nature lovers, it is now trending, according to Forbes Magazine, as an incentive towards your bottom line as well. One pioneering company, Cradle to Cradle, is now offering levels of certification, alongside pathways to improvement, with respect to five areas of product development: material health, material reutilization, renewable energy, water stewardship and social fairness. Biopod encourages such metrics and demonstrates that ethos by emulating the elements and patterns of nature to heighten the bar in plant and pet care, as well as across the terrarium, vivarium and paludarium manufacturing industry. Perhaps one day soon, biomimicry will have a hand in bringing natural systems and their tools to your entire neighborhood, city, or region.
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