14 Smart Inventions Inspired by Nature: Biomimicry

By Amelia Hennighausen and Eric Roston - 2013-08-19T12:01:13Z

Photograph by Andreas Reh

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Nature as R&D Lab

Companies seeking breakthrough products tend to ignore the greatest invention machine in the universe: life’s more than three-billion-year history of evolution by natural selection.

What’s missing is a systematic way of capturing nature’s creativity, says Janine Benyus, a biologist, "innovation consultant" and author. Engineering practices are fractured, Benyus says. Experts in biomimetics study materials; bionics engineers work on prostheses and mechanics. "There was no umbrella term that encompassed everything from agriculture to business," she says. And thus no way to systematize innovation.

So she launched what she calls a new discipline, biomimicry, the title of her 1997 book. Benyus has worked since then to popularize and organize ad hoc biomimetic practices that are probably as old as human invention. 

Click ahead for some striking examples of biomimicry.

With assistance from Tom Randall. 

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