Bionics – what we can learn from nature
The classic with potential: the lotus effect
The lotus effect is without doubt the most popular phenomenon in bionics – but it is far from boring since research into it is far from complete. In the 1970s, botanists embarked on a research programme with the aim of creating self-cleaning windows upon discovery that the leaves of the lotus flower, native to the Far East, are always free of dirt. How cool would that be?
The secret of the lotus flower lies in its tiny wax crystals that give the leaf a rough and pimpled structure, meaning that dirt particles and water droplets have few contact points with the leaf and are unable to stick to it successfully. Water and dirt fall off spherically. Although it has now been possible to imitate this effect artificially when it comes to wall paints and roof tiles, self-cleaning windows and cars remain dreams of the future for the time being. This is because lotus-effect surfaces automatically become matt – and this is not the ideal solution for glass panes.
Filtering like a manta ray
When feeding, manta rays simply open their mouth and take in everything that comes their way. Easy. They achieve this due to the fact that their gill raker features an ingenious filter system, meaning that they do not miss any food particles; even if these particles are actually too small for their filter pores and have to slip through instead. Researchers from the USA have recreated the manta ray's gill raker by means of 3D printing and have come across a "solid liquid separation mechanism", which is very interesting in terms of potentially creating novel filter mechanisms that could even serve to keep the oceans clean. That really would be quite something!
Robots as soft as molluscs
Time for softies! Stiff robots that move around in a jerky manner could soon be a thing of the past. Flexible and elastic machines, modelled on the squid, are very much on the rise in their place. Their muscles are capable of shrinking, stretching, stiffening and twisting. This is exactly what an Italian research group has taken as inspiration in order to build artificial tentacles that are not based on humans or animals with rigid skeletons, as was previously the case in robotics. These new flexible robots adapt to their surroundings without relying on a significant amount of computing power. Furthermore, they could be employed in rescue aid, for example, due to the fact that they can squeeze into the tightest spaces and move over slippery boulders.
This is a prime example of how nature can be used in an effective manner. The answers to the questions of our time concerning environmental protection and the climate crisis could already lie within it. We simply have to take good notice of our surroundings.