14 Smart Inventions Inspired by Nature: Biomimicry

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

Photographs by Hiromi Okano/Corbis; West Japan Railway Co. via Bloomberg

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Shinkansen Bullet Train

High-speed trains can literally cause headaches. That's why Japan limits their acceptable noise-pollution level, which can be particularly high when the trains emerge from tunnels. As they drive through, air pressure builds up in waves and, when the nose emerges, can produce a shotgun-like thunderclap heard for a quarter mile.

Eiji Nakatsu, a bird-watching engineer at the Japanese rail company JR-West, in the 1990s took inspiration from the kingfisher, a fish-eating fowl that creates barely a ripple when it darts into water in search of a meal. The train’s redesigned nose — a 50-foot-long steel kingfisher beak — didn't just solve the noise problem; it reduced power use and enabled faster speeds.

A Dumb Question about biomimicry.

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