Engineering Inspired by Nature
A research team at George Mason University is applying concepts from nature to the design of better buildings. Their project includes developing a computer program that “evolves” new building designs based on genetic evolution. The program uses a system of models, procedures and algorithms to search for robust designs. Applying this approach to several test design problems, the team has designed buildings that use less material and sway less in high winds, yet are just as strong as traditionally designed buildings.
Researchers at Texas A&M, Missouri University of Science and Technology and the University of Toronto have collaborated on another project that is also focused on learning from nature. The team is exploring how to capture the function of a natural system and use this to generate new design ideas. They have discovered that natural systems may be modeled functionally as if they were engineered systems. Researchers can therefore design engineered systems by adapting solutions from natural systems. For example, they have studied the maneuverability of a housefly and captured the function and energy use of its wings, which can then be applied to improving the design of a micro-vehicle with flapping wings. However, in applying biologically-based design, it is critical to understand energy sources and flows.
By looking to nature for inspiration, engineers and designers can draw upon a multitude of design elements to solve design problems. Both teams are discovering the underlying principles behind designs in nature and applying them to engineered designs with the goal of creating more environmentally friendly and energy efficient systems.