7 ways to find biomimicry inspiration in nature during corona

Woman with face mask looking at flower

The Coronavirus has impacted everyone’s life in some way or another. Video conferences and home office have become the way to work for many.

However, staying at home means you have time to pick up new skills or improve on existing ones. If you are an experienced bio-inspired designer, here are some ways for finding biomimicry inspiration during the coronavirus.

If you are new to bionics, you will find suggestions on how to get started right now!

1 Watch a Documentary

Watching documentaries is a great way to see nature in action and find bio-inspiration. After all, what’s not to like about sitting on your couch and getting biomimicry ideas from nature at any time?

Most importantly, there is no need to leave your house in doing so which means you are helping to flatten the curve. As a side bonus for parents, watching a documentary with your kids is a great way to spend time together and learn something at the same time.

Tv screen apps
Watch tv to find bio-inspiration in nature.

There are countless great films about nature out there and of course, you are free to select topics that interest you most. However, if you want to get the most out of your screen time, make sure to pick with care.

Connected principles first

If you are currently working on a project, look for topics that could be related to the problem you are solving.

If your goal is to improve the loading capacity of a semi-truck, a good starting point would probably be principles in nature that are related to transportation or structures.

On the other hand, if your project is connected to water, a documentary about the mating rituals of gorillas in captivity would not be the first choice.

Moving from obvious to less obvious connections helps you find solutions more effectively.

Think outside of the box

It is natural to look for biomimicry inspiration principles that are related to the problem you like to solve. However, thinking outside of the box is extremely useful and important.

Don’t limit yourself to what appears to be “obvious” only and look for answers where you don’t expect them at first. Bio-inspired design methodology can help you with that.

Use techniques such as BIOScrabble to come up with useful keywords for biological principles and then look for documentaries that cover these.

For example, if you are looking for a connection between “cutting” and “walls“, you could have a look at ants cutting leaves to find food with their teeth which would be a sensible choice.

However, you could also go further and check out a movie about underwater cave channels that were carved out by water over millennia.

2 Go for a walk – alone

This one might not be possible for everyone as some areas impose strict restrictions on going outside. However, if you are able to leave the house on your own, going for a walk is healthy, releases stress, and gives you time to think.

Leave your phone at home or at least in your pocket and turn off notifications for social media to not get distracted. Look around, observe nature and think about how things work. Stay far away from other people and observe your local regulations on social distancing.

Young woman going for a walk
Going for a walk or hike is a great source of (bio-)inspiration.

Make sure to make the most of your time outside and take notes of what you observe. When you are back at home, writing a bioCard is a great way to research the working mechanism further and evaluate whether it could aid in solving the problem you are working on.

3 Use Online Tools for Ideas

If you can’t go outside, work from home. There are many great resources for finding biomimicry examples, inspiration from nature and biological principles online.

My favorite platform to use is asknature for general biological phenomena and current research. Simply type in a keyword of your choice and check out their articles. pubMed also offers a large source of medical and biomedical papers and publications that are great for keyword search.

Of course, you can also check our list of biomimicry examples and projects and get some inspiration on what others have done.

Check out our guide to the best online sources for bio-inspired design and finding biomimicry inspiration and examples.

4 Read a biomimicry book

If you haven’t done so, read one of the great biomimicry books out there. They will help you dive into the history of biomimicry, teach methods and tools used during bio-inspired design and definitely give you inspiration for your own projects.

The most well-known one is “Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature” by Janine Benyus. Published in 1997, this is still the number one title recommended to everyone just starting out with bioinspiration.

In 8 chapters, Benyus introduces a number of real biomimicry examples that solve different problems. You do not need a science or engineering background to follow along, however, some biological and research knowledge will definitely come in handy.

You can get the hardcover book or Kindle version from Amazon.

The book also outlines the path from initial idea to finished invention which is useful in understanding how to approach problem-solving in bio-inspired design.

The book is more than 20 years old, however, and since then many innovations and changes have been introduced in the field. That aside it is a great read when staying at home during the corona pandemic and will give you plenty of interesting insights.

The second book I recommend is “A Practical Guide to Bio-inspired Design” by Helena Hashemi Farzaneh and Udo Lindemann.

The book is new from 2019 and aimed at engineers, scientists, and managers incorporating bio-inspired design in their projects. It features the six steps of bio-inspired design:

  • Planning
  • Search
  • Abstraction
  • Analysis & Comparison
  • Transfer
  • Detail Design

For each step, the authors introduce a number of methods and example projects that will give project managers templates to follow. Coming from an academic background, the book also includes a number of approaches that have been developed in research and are mostly unknown outside of it.

A word of warning, the book does not fall under the category “quick and easy read” and can be seen as a handbook or encyclopedia for practitioners. In my opinion, this is a great read for anyone serious about using biomimicry and bio-inspired design in projects or managing bionics teams.

You can purchase the book as a hardcover or Kindle version here:

5 Learn New Bio-Inspired Design Methods

This one should come as no surprise at bio-inspired.com. After all, we teach and promote bio-inspired design methods to our students in our courses and blog.

As history shows, you don’t need to follow one specific method or use one particular tool to develop great products. Some of the best biomimicry examples in history, like the Velcro® fasteners, were discovered purely by chance.

Nevertheless, structuring your projects and using tools to aid your ideation process will improve your chances of successfully incorporating biomimicry.

We all know, learning by doing is the best way to acquire new skills and bio-inspired methods work best when applies to real-world examples.

BioCards are one of my favorite techniques in bio-inspired design and easy to pick up during the corona-imposed home office. The goal is to pick a phenomenon in nature and break it down into working mechanisms and functional principles.

Start by picking any animal you find interesting. Maybe one you observed during your walk outside by yourself. Along the wheat fields close to my home, for example, you can find large numbers of earthworms in the ground.

The title of the bioCard could therefore be “Earthworms moving in soil“. A quick google search reveals that this particular family of worms is called “Lumbricidae“. Knowing this can help later on when researching the working mechanism for their movement.

Earthworm on grass
Let’s look at the earthworm (Lumbricidae) as an example.

In the first step, describe the phenomenon and behavior as best as possible. In the case of earthworms this might look as follows:

Earthworms are small, tubular-shaped worms. Their body consists of a number of soft segments that can vary in number and may regenerate when damaged or lost. They dig through all types of soil.

If it is loose enough, they are able to push forward, however, if it is not, they eat it before releasing it on top.

In the second step, write down a description of the biological mechanism. Use biological terminology but make sure you understand it.

Don’t be afraid to copy from other sources such as Wikipedia or AskNature, as long as they are reputable and the information presented can be verified. Be careful though not to commit any copyright infringements when publishing these results.

Earthworms move through the ground by contracting and extending their muscles and pressing against the tunnel they have dug. Once extended, small hairlike structures known as setae extrude from inside their bodies.

They act as anchors in the tunnel walls so that the worms can then pull the rear part of their bodies forward. They alternate between front and rear segments moving forward.

In the third step, describe the functional principle of the observed process. This is the actual transfer of biomimicry and is done in technical terms. Only write the essential parts of the mechanism and avoid a narrative style that distracts from the function.

Earthworms move through the ground through muscular contractions. By anchoring small claw-shaped bristles known as “setae” against the tunnel walls they pull themselves forward.

These bristles are located along the entire length of their body. By altering the setae that are extruded at any moment, they are able to move different segments each time. They secrete mucus to help their locomotion.

In the final step include a drawing or sketch of both the phenomenon, as well as the underlying mechanism.

When your bioCard is finished, you should have a good understanding of the phenomenon you observed and draw conclusions whether it might be applicable to the problem you are trying to solve.

You will also find that cards made by two different people will look and focus on different aspects and complement each other.

Of course, there are dozens of other methods out there to spark your creativity. If you want to learn more about them, check out our courses and become a bio-inspired design expert.

6 Exchange Ideas with your Family

This might raise an eyebrow or two, but these are indeed strange times. Staying at home non-stop with your kids, significant other or other people you live with poses challenges, as we all know. But if you are at home anyway, just make the best of the situation!

Tell them about your project- if you haven’t done so already- and the ideas you have been thinking about. Ask them what they think. You would be surprised about the ideas that kids have (or maybe not, after weeks of staying at home together… ?) when it comes to biomimicry.

7 Watch our Biomimicry Course

Last but not least, if you really want to become a biomimicry expert, check out our courses on bio-inspired design aimed at new and experienced designers alike.

You don’t need any background in biology and we will show you step by step how to plan and carry out bio-inspired design projects.

Furthermore, you will learn to use a lot of great, functional tools to find better ideas and turn them into marketable products in no time.

Courses will open soon so make sure to sign up to our newsletter now and get notified once they are!