Marine Muse: 12 More Sea-Inspired Designs & Inventions

Who would have thought that a fish with a rectangular body could inspire a car, that compounds in algae could help us fight drug-resistant bacteria, or that schools of fish could hold the key to designing more efficient wind farms? The sea is a source of endless inspiration for design, architecture and all kinds of inventions from robotics to biomedical breakthroughs.  Here are 12 (more!) examples of oceanic biomimicry.

Mercedes-Benz Box Fish Car

(images via: treehugger)

For their 2005 Bionic Car Concept, Mercedez-Benz looked to the boxfish: a fast tropical fish that’s angular yet streamlined, aerodynamic and highly efficient. “Its rectangular anatomy is practically identical to the cross-section of a car body,” explains Daimler, which had a scientific team analyze the fish’s anatomy including its impact-resistant, armor-plated outer skin which is also the secret to its speed. Combining light weight and an aerodynamic shape with a direct-injection diesel engine, Daimler achieved an average of 70 miles per gallon.

Robot Squid

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When it’s necessary to perform dangerous tasks underwater – like searching for mines – robots are an ideal option. And when designing them for optimal efficiency, biomimicry is the way to go, giving them more precise movements and greater speed using less fuel. Osaka University’s Department of Naval Architecture and Ocean Engineering created this ‘Robot Squid‘ using physical properties of both squid and other marine animals like stingrays using rubber panels on the sides to ‘fly’ through the water. This design enables the robot to stay in control even in unstable currents.

The Nautilus, Sacred Geometry and Spiral Staircases

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Certain numbers and patterns seem to dominate the geometry of the universe, including the shape of the nautilus shell which is known as the Golden Mean Spiral. Found countless times in nature, this spiral follows the Golden Ratio (Phi) or Fibonacci Sequence in its rate of expansion, a ratio that not only provides visual harmony but structural strength as well. Look up into any spiral staircase, and you’ll see an echo of that seashell shape – it’s no accident!

Coral Village by Vincent Callebaut

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Architect Vincent Callebaut, creator of a number of other concepts that mimic the biology of plants and animals like dragonflies and lily pads, found inspiration in the sea for his Coral Reef Village. This modular housing proposal, designed to improve housing conditions in crisis-stricken Haiti, stacks living units on top of one another in a formation that follows the organic form of a coral reef. Two inhabited ‘waves’ of housing undulate on an artificial pier built on seismic piles in the Caribbean Sea.

Structural Applications of the Skeletons of Marine Mammals

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How can algorithms derived from the skeletons of marine mammals assist in the design of architectural structures? The Radiolara Project at the University of Kassel set out to examine this question, studying the structural stability and aesthetics of these skeletons as a basis for 3D modeling software. The designers applied what they learned to an actual mesh installation that utilizes strong hexagonal cells.

Calatrava’s Seashell Inspiration for the Chicago Spire

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A victim of the economy, the Chicago Spire will now never become a part of the Windy City’s iconic skyline. But the idea behind the design is interesting, taking the spiral form for the tower from – naturally – a sea shell. In this video, architect Santiago Calatrava explains how the structure of shells applies to his swirling design.

Resisting Bacteria with Algae

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Could a whole new type of antibiotic medicine emerge from chemicals discovered in seaweed? Researchers at the University of New South Wales say yes after finding that compounds known as furanones found in the seaweed Delisea pulchra can prevent the bacteria that cause cholera from ‘switching on’ their disease-causing mechanisms. The scientists say that these compounds don’t kill the bacteria, but simply keep them from communicating. The discovery is currently undergoing laboratory tests to see if it could apply to other forms of bacteria as well, possibly opening the door to a new way to fight drug-resistant bacteria like staph.

Volkswagen Concept Car Inspired by Ocean Waves

(images via: thedesignblog)

Spanish designer Josep Ferriol watched translucent waves hitting the rocks on a beach and saw flowing glass meeting a slick black car body, leading to this futuristic car concept called the Volkswagen Kai-Nalu. Created for a thesis project, the design features an entirely transparent curving roof that calls to mind the surface of the sea.

Mussel Adhesive Inspires Self-Healing Sticky Gel

(image via: wikimedia commons)

How do mussels stay attached to rocks along the shoreline despite the incredible forces of the sea? They manufacture their own self-healing sticky adhesive, which repairs itself when torn by pounding waves and abrasive sand. Scientists have figured out how to mimic this substance with a synthetic version that could be used for a number of applications including coating for underwater machinery or surgical adhesive. While scientists still don’t entirely understand how the natural mussel glue works, their own version uses metals and polymers to create stable bonds.

Perpetually Sharp Tools Inspired by Sea Urchin Spines

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The needle-sharp spines of a sea urchin are used to cut through stone, carving out protective nooks where the creatures can seek safety from the harsh underwater environment. Amazingly, these spines never seem to wear down. Scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison may have finally found out why: a self-sharpening mechanism facilitated by organic materials that are layered with the strong calcite crystals in the spines. The structure of these elements provides pre-determined breaking points that provide a new sharp edge when over-stressed. This trick, say the scientists, could be used to make tools that never need to be honed.

Sharkskin-Inspired Paint Makes Planes More Aerodynamic

(image via: discovery)

The shape and texture of sharp scales has already been used to create extremely aerodynamic swimsuits for Olympic teams, and now it could be incorporated into a paint to reduce drag on airplanes, ships and wind turbines. The ridges of a shark’s scales are spaced in such a way that they prevent barnacles and other sea life from accumulating. Researchers at Fraunhofer created a paint that, when applied with a special stencil, mimics this effect, potentially saving a whole lot of fuel.

Schools of Fish Make Wind Farms More Efficient

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“I became inspired by observations of schooling fish, and the suggestion that there is constructive hydrodynamic interference between the wakes of neighboring fish,” says fluid-dynamics expert John Dabiri of the California Institute of Technology. “It turns out that many of the same physical principles can be applied to the interaction of vertical-axis wind turbines.”

Mimicking the way that fish interact in schools could change the design of wind turbines altogether, switching from tall vertical styles to vertical-axis turbines with propellers placed in a “staircase” pattern that could allow for much more compact wind farms. Dabiri believes that his design could help wind farms produce up to 10 times more energy.


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