What do a stealthy, nocturnal bird of prey and natures own dive bomber have in common with the magnificent piece of engineering that is the 500 series Shinkansen?
Biomimicry. The borrowing of mother natures designs for human kind's engineering endeavors.
With a top speed of some 200 mph, Japan's 500 Series Shinkansen bullet train is one of the fastest in the world. To enable it to run quietly at high speeds, designers emulated one of the quietest birds, owls. By designing small serrations similar to those on owl feathers, they were able to reduce the noise generated by the train's pantograph—the component that connects to overhead electrical wires. The most obviously biomimetic design element is the train's nose cone, which is modeled after a kingfisher's beak. This allows the bird to dive from air into water with a minimal amount of resistance. On a train, the aerodynamic design reduces the sonic boom that occurs when the train passes from a tunnel back into the open air, reducing noise pollution.Imagine the possibilities of biomimicry. A fiber with the tensile strength of a spider's silk (high grade steel,) chameleon or squid-like adaptive camouflage, the ability to spin around really, really fast like a Tasmanian devil.
Really, though, the Biomimicry Institute's decade long works are a boon for both business and the environment. A right step in a direction where human advancement and earths biology meet, shake hands and settle down to an evening of tossing back some cognac and generally getting along.