Everything around us comes from nature. Computers, toasters, steel mills, polyester, even superconducting super colliders, all “natural” in origin.
Technology is nothing more than a human byproduct.
However, most of our creations are mal-adapted. Unlike the byproducts of all other living beings, most things we’ve designed are not degradable, not reusable, not able to change with the environment or be reabsorbed by it.
If we can change this, we can better secure the future of our society, our species and our planet.
Can borrow from the way life has been designing for thousands and thousands of years and tangibly apply these lessons to our modern age?
This is a growing movement — highlighted by a recent talk given by Dayna Baumeister of the Biomimicry Guild at BuildGreen09 — and there are real-world examples already in production and use. A few of my favorites:
This office and retail complex was designed to be ventilated and cooled by entirely natural means, and was one of the first to do so. By using passive cooling, the building consumes around 10% of the energy needed by a similar conventional structure. For inspiration, architect Mick Pearce and his engineers looked to the locally common termite mounds, which are built to catch any breeze and pull cool air in from the earth while sun-warmed air vents out through flues on the top and sides.
Moths rely on light sources to communicate and find food and mates. Their eyes, unlike most other animal species, do not glint in the night, which would distract from important light sources (such as your porch lamp…). Moth eyes are anti-reflective. This is achieved with a surface covered with many micro-cone-shaped protuberances, which break up the light and stop it from bouncing back uniformly. MacDermid Autotype has reproduced this type of patterned surface and developed non-toxic, non-reflective films that can be used industrially.
When used to coat solar panels, for example, the non-reflective films will absorb much more energy from each ray of sun that hits. The easily-degradable anti-glare films are also used on computer and cell phone screens.
Almost half of the materials in our landfills end up there because of glue. For example, a simple chair of wood, metal and fabric is glued together so strongly that the parts simply cannot be separated in a reusable way. Most industrial adhesive is also toxic.
However, geckos and many insects walk on walls, and they don’t use suction to defy gravity. Instead, their feet are covered with rows of tiny hairs, that utilize molecular attraction to adhere to any surface. Scientists have begun producing tape and adhesives using this technique, resulting in glue-free products that can stick to dusty surfaces better, can be washed with soap and water, and can be reused multiple times.
Lotus flowers grow up through the muck of ponds and swamps and bloom into gorgeous, smooth, colorful flowers. The molecular structure of their petals makes it so that water not only rolls off, but carries with it any surface dirt. Companies like Sto Worldwide have mimicked these hydrophobic qualities, and produce exterior paint that is not only water-tight, but essentially self-cleaning, minimizing the need for detergents or for repainting at all.
These are all examples of the kind of design Dayna calls “fitting IN, instead of fitting ON.”
We need to keep stimulating this kind of innovation!
I’ll end with the same mantra she did, good advice for anyone, no matter what discipline or field.
How many silly inventions does it take to come up with a winner?
The 20th century in the US saw a burgeoning industrial design atmosphere. From automated dishwashers and automobiles to rockets and computers, our society was fundamentally changed by these lasting engineering designs.
But quite a few others were suggested that didn’t make the cut. Looking back now, they seem silly, even absurd. But they were much more in keeping with their time.
What will our future counterparts laugh at? Segways? “Smokeless” cigarettes? Swiffers? Will they seem as foolish as some of these?
Founded in 2000 — or 02000, as they like to write, the project published their first edition Rosetta Disk in 2008.
The disk holds 1500 languages from around the world.
Made of double-sided micro-etched nickel, the disk is a visual archive, not a digital one. Not format-dependent; all one needs to read the disk is magnification. Like microfiche, but with much more density.
One side of the disk is a guide to the main archive on the reverse. It is etched with a central image of the earth and a message written in 8 major languages:
Languages of the World: This is an archive of over 1,500 human languages assembled in the year 02008 C.E. Magnify 1,000 times to find over 13,000 pages of language documentation.
The message is printed in concentric spirals, both maximizing the number of people who will be able to read something immediately upon picking up the disk, as well as implying how to use it – magnify to see more.
Seems I have to post the code below to claim my blog on Technorati? Hmmm.
We shall see.
Meanwhile, check out this nicely designed single-serve coffee machine by WMF. I refuse to write a whole post about it on the basis that I’m sure it doesn’t make excellent coffee. But my coffee standards are very high, and it’s probably very handy.
A beautiful amalgam of word and industrial design, the QLOCKTWO tells time in a “typographic format.”
It has a quadratic matrix of letters, where some of the letters are illuminated. The time is displayed in five minute intervals. Just like how people talk to each other. If you need to have a more exact time, look in the corner at the illuminated dots.
It’s available in an impressive six different languages, and five different colors (though according to their twitter feed, it appears they are offering a new “qolor” STEEL as well).
Released in Spring 2009, QLOCKTWO is handmade in Germany, so although the price was lowered after a flurry of press and awards, it will still set you back €885 (around $1,265).
At the heart of this square beauty is a DCF-77 time-signal receiver, so you don’t ever have to set the time. There are four brightness modes, and an auto mode that adjusts according to ambient light.
Bonus: There is also a 99 cent iPhone App, in German and English.