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Biomimicry: Design Inspirations from Nature

The inventor of Velcro ripped cockleburs from his dog’s fur. Da Vinci and the Wright brothers studied birds in flight. And now a rising number of designers are looking to nature for inspiration. Companies as diverse as Boeing, Ford, General Electric, Herman Miller, HP, IBM, Kraft, Nike, and Patagonia are welcoming biologists to the design lab. Here’s a sampling of Mother Nature at work.

Centrifugal pumps consume massive amounts of energy and generate cavitation (tiny bubbles) as they work, causing vibration that makes them noisy and inefficient. The nature-spiraled volute pump doesn’t cavitate, and thus uses 20% to 40% less juice. It’s also gentler than its old-school counterparts: “The delta smelt [in the Sacramento River] has been munched up by pumps,” says Pax Scientific CEO Jay Harman. “With the volute pump, fish go through.” Pax recently got funding from VC Vinod Khosla and is bringing its ultra-efficient spiral to aerospace and medicine, heat exchange and air-conditioning, wind turbines and marine propulsion.

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