Oceanic Biomimicry: 13 Designs Inspired by the Sea

How do you design the perfect turbine blade for use underwater, or build a fleet of vehicles that can pack tightly together and navigate around obstacles in a flash? Look to nature – specifically, in this case, the astounding complexities of the sea and all of the life it contains. Architecture in the shape of shells, robotic lobsters, cars that behave like schools of fish and swimwear modeled on sharkskin are just a few biomimetic designs inspired by the ocean.

Pollution-Sensing Robotic Fish

(image via: gizmag)

When a team of British scientists needed to put a robot into the sea to test pollution levels, they realized that nothing would be able to navigate the waters better than a fish. So they designed a completely autonomous, wi-fi connected, life-like robotic fish equipped with chemical sensors that can located the sources of hazardous pollutants in the water. The fish, which transmit the information they collect to a control center while re-charging their batteries at a “charging hub”, were released into the waters in the Spanish port of Gijon in 2010.

Taiwan BioLab Inspired by Nautilus Shell

(images via: world architecture news)

A nautilus shell is one of nature’s most perfect shapes, and it is from this sophistication that architect Manifred Nicoletti drew inspiration for the BioLab Squadron in Taiwan, which are set to be among the most technologically advanced laboratories on the planet. Nicoletti’s honorable mention-winning proposal not only used the nautilus shape as the basis of the two labs, but delved further into biomimicry with an outer skin pattern that emulates the four symbols attributed to the DNA sequence of the bacteria that would be studied inside the labs.


For millions of years, whales have propelled themselves through heavy water despite their bulk and weight – thanks to a finely honed design that couldn’t be more perfect if all the world’s most talented engineers spent their lives trying to outdo it. Biology professor Dr. Frank Fish (no joke) noticed that the little bumps on the flippers of a humpback whale served an important purpose, increasing their aerodynamic efficiency. Along with Stephen Dewar, Fish co-founded WhalePower, a company turning this discovery into innovative solutions for things like airplanes, submarines and wind turbines. Their most tangible accomplishment thus far is a highly efficient ceiling fan.

Stunning Shell Villa Retreat

(images via: artechnic)

The stark white exterior of the Shell Villa curves around itself in a clear yet subtle imitation of its namesake. This graceful home hovers off the ground in sharp contrast to the green of its natural surroundings and the brown of its wooden decks. Designed by ARTechnic, the airy and naturally day-lit structure dazzles with walls of windows and built-in furniture that sets off its curvilinear surfaces.

Nissan’s Fish-Inspired Car Design

(images via: inhabitat)

Robotic cars may someday make traffic automatic – but it’s important for commuters to retain the ability to navigate around unexpected obstacles. Nissan engineers noted the way schools of fish pack tightly together and move quickly around predators and coral, and applied it to the EPORO, a cartoon-like concept car that uses Ultra Wide Band radio signals and laser measurement technology to mimic this behavior.

“We, in a motorized world, have a lot to learn from the behavior of a school of fish in terms of each fish’s degree of freedom and safety within a school and high migration efficiency of a school itself,” said principal engineer Toshiyuki Andou. “By sharing the surrounding information received within the group via communication, the group of EPOROs can travel safely, changing its shape as needed.”

Robolobsters: Biomimetic Underwater Robot Program

(images via: design life now)

It’s got eight legs, antennae and a protective shell, but this is no ordinary lobster. For one, it can detect mines and send that information back to the military. It’s also made of plastic, metal and wire. Scientists realized that the perfect design for trawling the ocean floor was in the biology of a lobster, and they adapted not just its physical shape and movements but the way its nervous system responds to variable conditions in its environment. Robolobsters will allow detection of mines in places where human direction isn’t possible, potentially saving a lot of lives.

Syph: Jellyfish-Like Self-Contained Ocean City

(images via: inhabitat)

In a worst-case scenario world where the earth is so flooded, there’s little land left for human civilization, ocean cities could provide a safe haven. This concept by Arup Biomimetics is not just a single floating city, but a collection of ‘organisms’, clearly inspired by jellyfish. The entirely self-contained cities have trailing appendages performing different energy and water-related functions, drawing in seawater to desalinate or collecting energy from waves.

Jellyfish House by Iwamoto-Scott

(images via: evolo)

Unlike the Syph, the Jellyfish House doesn’t actually look anything like a jellyfish, but it’s just as connected to the billowy invertebrate. Design firm Iwamoto-Scott imagines an ultramodern home that, like a jellyfish, coexists with its environment through a network of senses and responses despite having no brain or nervous system. The house, designed specifically for reclaimed land, can actually act as a water filtration system that operates within the ‘skin’, or exterior walls, helping to remediate the toxic soil at the building site. “Like jellyfish, the house attempts to incorporate emerging material and digital technologies in a reflexive, environmentally contingent manner. The house is designed as a mutable layered skin, or ‘deep surface’, that mediates internal and external environments.”

Algaerium: Algae-Inspired Design

(images via: inhabitat)

Going even deeper beyond just biomimicry is ‘Algaerium’, living surfaces and textiles that actually produce biofuels from algae. Marin Sawa’s design was inspired by how efficient natural systems can be without any electronics. She set out to utilize algae’s biological attributes of photosynthesis and bioluminescence to create design products like ornamental plant-based décor and jewelry that is also useful in other ways. The products are ever-evolving, changing color as the algae goes about its natural processes.

The Porpoise-Shaped Oculus Yacht

(image via: schopferyachts.com)

With three levels capable of accommodating twelve guests in the utmost comfort, the Oculus Yacht is definitely luxurious – but all of its ostentatious trappings aren’t really what makes this 250-foot vessel by Schopfer Yachts stand out. It’s the unusual design, clearly inspired by the shape of an open-mouthed porpoise. The design isn’t based on science or aerodynamics, just looks, but it’s an interesting direction to take for high-priced homes on the sea.

Shark Scale Swimsuits & Ship Skins

(image via: speedo)

Ever wonder why sharks have scales? They enable smooth, fast swimming, eliminating the drag caused by eddies that can form as water passes over the surface of an object. Considering that in the Olympics, the difference between winning and losing can be one-tenth of a second, crafting synthetic shark skin into swimsuits for athletes can definitely provide an edge. Speedo’s FastSkin line of swimsuits incorporates not just the texture of shark scales, but also the variability, changing the shape and texture over various parts of the bod for optimal aerodynamics. Applied to the exterior of ships, the same concept could even make Navy fleets faster and more energy-efficient.

Sea Snail Shells to Military Armor

(image via: science blogs)

The three-layered shell of one particular species of sea snail could lead to improved armor for soldiers and military vehicles. An MIT study found that mimicking the iron-plated shell of the scaly-foot snail would provide advanced protection due to the way the shell dissipates mechanical energy, like attacks from crabs. The strength of the snails’ shells evolved due to the animals’ harsh environment on the floor of the Indian Ocean, where it not only fends off attacks from predators but is subject to extreme fluctuations in water temperatures and acidity from hydrothermal vents.

BioWAVE: Harnessing Wave Power

(images via: biopower systems)

Just like the little plants that grow on the sea floor, the bioWAVE ocean wave energy system is designed to sway with the movement of the ocean. The buoyant blades capture the force of the waves during optimal energy-harnessing periods but are also able to cease operating and lay down flat in a safe position during extreme conditions to avoid damage. BioPower Systems is currently testing this technology for 250kW, 500kW and 100kW capacities in the hopes of providing power to the Flinders and King Islands off Australia in the short term, and possibly the entire state of Victoria in the long term.

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