Vehicle Routing By Ant Colony Optimization

When ants seek out food, each individual ant leaves chemical signals marking its path from the nest to the sustenance. As more and more ants go out foraging, closer sources and more efficient pathways to those spots are more clearly marked by an aggregation of signals, while less optimal routes literally fade away. Computer scientists are improving vehicle routing for delivering everything from parcels to gasoline using a similar algorithm based on this ant colony optimization. Virtual ants travel various paths involving multiple stops until an ideal tack rises above the others.

Image: tomfs

Bird Beak Bullet Train

One consequence of running the 200-mile-per-hour Japanese Shinkansen Bullet Train was noise pollution. Pressure built up in front of the snub-nosed train as it went through tunnels, causing a sonic boom upon exit. To fix the problem, engineers stole a trick from the kingfisher, a bird with a beak that tapers from stem to tip, allowing it to smoothly dive into water. By outfitting the train with a similar nose and by making subtle changes to the electrical rods that feed it power, the Shinkansen got as much as a 20-mile-per-hour speed bump and uses 15% less energy. And no more sonic booms.

Image: markkilner

Bee’s Eye View Of Collision Avoidance

In 2008, Nissan unveiled a small robotic car it had designed to showcase a new crash avoidance system modeled after the bee. The insect is able to navigate without hitting objects or other bees thanks to its compound eye that allows it to survey a full 300 degrees surrounding it. Nissan engineers translated the abilities of the compound eye into a laser range finder, which monitors an 180-degree arc to detect possible obstacles and relies on an “instinctive” reaction algorithm of acceleration/deceleration and rotation to avoid them.

Image: Andreas

From Fish to Bionic Mercedes

The “nose” to body ratio of the boxfish, which is native to the Indian and Pacific Oceans, is low, allowing it to encounter less drag as it moves because water flows out of its path. Mercedes took inspiration from the boxfish for its Bionic concept car, which theoretically could have offered a fuel economy of 84 miles per gallon of gas. The concept was unveiled in 2007, so it’s pretty clear that it isn’t hitting showrooms anytime soon. But elements of the Bionic likely will surface in a Mercedes sooner or later (if they haven’t already).

Image: richard ling

Sharkskin-based Drag-reducing Car Covering

Sharks seemingly glide through the ocean thanks to microscopic bumps on their skin that cause tiny vortices of water to collect at their sides, reducing drag on their bodies and speeding their movements. Texas-based company SkinzWraps created FastSkinz to bring that advantage to the automobile. The car covering is studded with tiny divots, like those on the surface of a golf ball, that, by reducing drag also increase fuel efficiency.

Image: Vintage Lulu

Ant-inspired Aid Necessities Transporter (A.N.T)

It’s obvious that biomimickers like ants. Australian industrial designer Bryan Lee was impressed by the ant’s ability to carry up to 50 times its weight, as well as its behavioral diligence in transporting food and materials to its hive. He based his A.N.T. (Aid Necessities Transporter) aid transport system on the insects. Transformer-type aid vehicles can speed out to areas where they’re needed and then shape-shift to become hauling vehicles that can carry loads from much-needed food to emergency housing.

Image: adambermingham

Shipping Made Easier Through Water Ferns

Water ferns don’t stay wet long. On their surfaces are tiny hydrophobic hairs with hydrophilic tips that essentially result in a pocket of air that keeps nearly the entire plant from actually being wet. By understanding how the fern accomplishes this waterproof quality, researchers at the University of Bonn in Germany are attempting to develop a coating that could be put on the hull of container ships to lower the behemoths’ fuel consumption by up to 10%.

Image: James Marvin Phelps

Next Gen Travel Networks Via Slime Mold

Japanese researchers put a single-celled slime mold on a surface and surrounded it with oat flakes dispersed in locations that represented the distribution of stations of the country’s high-speed rail network. Amazingly, the mold branched off and reached each morsel as efficiently as possible, by connecting the shortest distances between points--eventually approximating the actual railway map. It even managed the same task when topographical elements were added to the task. Scientists believe that the humble protist could inspire mathematical models that might govern future transport networks to achieve higher energy efficiency.

Image: frankenstoen

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Bird Beaks On Trains And Bee Eyes On Cars: Biomimicry In Transportation

We might have planes, trains, and automobiles, but nature has a monopoly on creatures that can move around as quickly and efficiently as possible. Now everyone from car designers to city planners are looking to the natural world for inspiration in better ways of getting us from point A to point B.

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