Our daily lives are filled with objects we take for granted, from lawn mowers to escalators. Technology has come a long way over the centuries, but apparently there’s an unsung hero in our midst – the animals. Giraffes, elephants, and many other beasts of the land have played crucial roles in the development of our modern society. You’ll never look at them the same again.
1. Mosquitoes – Surgical Needles
As much as we hate it when mosquitoes buzz in our ears, suck our blood, and render our nights riddled with restless angst, one must admit they are damn effective. The thing about mosquitoes is that you barely even feel it when they bite you. It’s only afterward that you feel something itch – and this is exactly what the Japanese researchers over at Kansai University wanted to replicate.
They created a three-pronged needle that vibrates slightly as it eases its way into the skin, modeled after the mosquitoes’ unique sneaky characteristics. Thanks to those pesky little buggers, that trip to the doctor might not be so scary anymore!
2. Fireflies – LED Light Bulbs
If not for LED light bulbs, our lives as we know it would be considerably darker. However, most people don’t know that their mere existence was inspired by fireflies. A study of the fireflies’ microscopic projections of light, or microstructures, showed that they were uniquely asymmetrical.
Penn State University researchers discovered that by mimicking the fireflies’ asymmetrical microstructures onto regular LED lights, it improved the light distribution by a whopping 90 percent. You don’t need to be a mathematician to appreciate that level of improvement. So next time you see a kaleidoscope of beautiful fireflies in the forest, remember to thank them for their contributions to cafe lighting.
3. Bats – Walking Sticks For The Blind
A few professors at Leeds University in England were just hanging out casually when they had an idea to invent the Ultracane. Made for the blind, it vibrates when it gets close to another object, increasing their safety tremendously. It works with a system called echolocation, which is exactly what bats use to sense their surroundings.
Letting loose around 60,000 ultrasonic pulses per second, the cane is highly intuitive and can sense things from literally all angles. From fire hydrants, to trash cans, to revolving doors, these canes are providing help to the blind like never before. Who would’ve thought that bats would provide such a service?
4. Mussels – Adhesives
Mussels, while they like to live their lives under the radar (and under water), made their contribution to science as well. There’s a breed of underwater mollusks who possess a supreme ability to latch onto wet surfaces, and scientists were adamant to replicate that with modern glue.
Using the mussels as a blueprint, they invented a substance that stuck to surfaces roughly 10 times better than all competitors in the market. They did this by engineering a biomimetic polymer based on the mussels’ unique amino acid makeup, and the results were nothing short of astounding. Who would’ve thought that mussels had such an influential hand in society?
5. Camels – Water Purification
Camels have this amazing ability to survive in the driest climates on earth with limited water resources. Scientists wanted to understand how they do this, and hopefully gain a technological leg up in the process. The results were intriguing, to say the least.
They discovered that camels recycle their own exhaled air at night: first by cooling it, and then by absorbing it back once it’s mixed in with the atmosphere again. Sahara Desert researchers used this method to create a water purification system that removes salt from saltwater. From plants that need irrigation to needy humans around the world, water conservation has certainly improved thanks to camels.
6. Hummingbirds – Helicopters
Hummingbirds and helicopters are similar in that they both possess the ability to hover in place, as well as fly sideways or backwards if they choose. However, helicopter engineers have always been looking for ways to improve their models – and thus they have actually taken a few pro tips from hummingbirds.
Using research conducted on a variety of 12 different hummingbird species, researchers from Stanford University and Wageningen University found something interesting. In regards to the length of the hummingbirds’ wings, the scientists learned that the larger the aspect ratio, the more powerful they were. They also used considerably less energy. It’s not hard to see how this ended up improving helicopter technology dramatically!
7. Elephants – Bionic Arms
There’s a reason that an elephant is one of the most wild dangerous animals one can run into. That majestic trunk of theirs, while a novel spectacle, happens to possess 40,000 muscles with no bones at all. It’s a behemoth of a weapon, and scientists realized that the potential of research was limitless.
A handful of scientists from Germany actually developed a bionic arm based on the unique properties in elephant trunks. Courtesy of a company called Festo, countless individuals in need of new limbs have benefited strongly from their product. But let’s not forget that without our wonderful elephants, it never would’ve been possible.
8. Sea Otters – Wetsuits
Ever wonder how sea otters hang around in freezing cold lakes as consistently as they do? It’s because they have some of the warmest protective fur that exists amongst animals. This caused researchers from MIT to start a project that involved mimicking otter fur, and implementing their properties into human wetsuits.
Within these wetsuits, they designed small, furry, rubbery pelts not unlike what otters have. These pelts essentially trap pockets of warm air within the fur, maintaining a sense of heat at all times. Thanks to the marvelous sea otter, the underwater temperature feels a tad more habitable for divers wearing these suits.
9. Humpback Whales – Wind Power
Humpback whales are among the biggest creatures on Earth. But despite their gargantuan size, they’re somehow able to move exceedingly quickly. The whales are able to do this thanks to their exceptional flippers, which are naturally built for maximum momentum. Scientists studied the bumps on their fins, which are known as tubercles, and realized that this was the main key to their success.
In fact, a company called WhalePower learned that tubercles provide a 32 percent drag reduction, an eight percent lift improvement, and a 40 percent increase of attack with smooth flippers. This eventually helped improve the performance of propellers on airplanes, fans, and other wind-powered objects.
10. Dogs – Velcro
The inspiration for velcro actually didn’t take place in a lab. It happened at the home of Georges de Mastral, a Swiss engineer who noticed his dog’s remarkable ability to absorb burrs during a hunt in the forest. He later examined the burrs and his dog’s hair underneath a microscope, and noticed something bizarre.
The combination of the burrs’ toughness and his dog’s furry hair allowed them to stick together quite effortlessly. With this as a blueprint, he combined a rough cotton with nylon, and then placed it onto a cloth with tiny loops. The next thing he knew, velcro as we know it was born.
11. Butterflies – Anti-Counterfeit Technology
It may seem like the strangest match made in heaven, but our beautiful butterfly friends have become friends of the economy. With counterfeit schemes running rampant throughout the decades, researchers have worked tirelessly to find a solution to this pesky problem. That’s when they noticed something special about the way a butterfly’s wing changes color.
Simon Fraser University scientists created a technology called NOTES, which mimics the butterfly’s nanoscale light-interfering structures. That’s when they transferred it onto actual dollar bills, where these light structures were basically invisible. Thanks to butterflies, major criminals are having a much harder time counterfeiting bills than ever before.
12. Spider Webs – Glass Windows
There’s nothing worse than unexpectedly walking into a spider web. But as annoying as it is, they were made to survive in the wild. In fact, spider webs are incredibly resistant towards all things, including rogue birds that are constantly attempting to fly through them. Scientists from the Biomimicry 3.8 Institute realized that glass windows could benefit from what the spiders had to offer, and got working.
Since spiders make their webs with ultraviolet silk, scientists added an ultraviolet coating to their new invention, which they called the ORNILUX Bird Protection Glass. Thanks to our eight-legged friends, certain glass windows are now better protected against winged intruders than ever before.
13. Albatrosses – Drones
The albatross is a magnificent creature, with the ability to soar the sky efficiently and effortlessly. Researchers have always marveled at the way albatrosses rarely flap their wings while flying, conserving precious stores of energy. Additionally, they generally fly up to 600 miles per day.
So MIT scientists decided to work on a drone that would not just fly, but conserve energy as well the same way an albatross does. Their plan was to create a fixed-wing drone, one that relies heavily on organic wind-propulsion. This would enable drones to fly for hours on end without having to recharge – even overseas!
14. Codfish – Blood Conservation
Researchers discovered that Arctic Cod had developed something extraordinary. In order to survive multiple seasons in icy waters, they possess special antifreeze proteins in their bodies. Also known as glycoprotein, it allows the blood that circulates in their body to remain a liquid, and not turn into ice.
This inspired Warwick University researchers to make a molecular substance that would do exactly the same for blood bags that get conserved in blood banks. Since they too are frequently held on ice, the scientists developed Polyvinyl alcohol – a polymer that would prevent these precious blood cells from freezing and ultimately dying out.
15. Sharks – U.S. Navy Ships
Every military is always looking for that edge that’ll set them apart from other countries. For the U.S. Navy, they sought to find a solution to pesky barnacles that would latch onto their ships underwater. Conversely, sharks don’t have this problem, thanks to their V-shape scales which are also known as dermal denticles.
These dermal denticles help sharks get rid of micro-organisms that attack their skin – and it wasn’t long before the Navy followed suit. They invented Sharklet, an innovative material that helped prevent substantial marine growth on their ships. As a result, U.S. Navy ships became increasingly fast and more efficient.
16. Giraffes – Blood Pressure Sustainability
The long neck of a giraffe might be visually striking to look at, but it has some powerful health benefits too. Its sheer level of mass actually helps giraffes maintain a steady blood flow better than most living things. Simply put, their blood has a ton of room to roam and circulate – which helped scientists develop a blood compression therapy system for medical patients.
Giraffes have tough and fibrous skin, which also adds to their blood circulation. The scientists replicated this too, optimizing the blood flow of their system even further. This was especially helpful for hospitalized patients suffering from leg ulcers and edema.
17. Cats – Cat Hair Brush
Interestingly enough, it was the cats who helped scientists find a solution for people with cat allergies. Cat hair has this knack for spreading like wildfire, and appearing in places where you least expect it. While grooming brushes have been around for decades, researchers have finally hit it out of the park with this one.
Using inspiration from cat tongues, which possess microscopic curved spines known as papillae, a brush was invented to accomplish the same exact feat. This innovative brush, while seemingly innocent, possesses similar tiny little curved spines, which are basically imperceptible to the human eye and remarkably efficient at cleaning cat hair.
18. Woodpeckers – Black Boxes
We’ve all wondered it at some point: How on earth do those relentless woodpeckers continuously smash their skulls into sturdy tree trunks all day without suffering considerable damage? The answer is that their skulls are naturally built with marvelous shock absorbers – and scientists wanted a piece of the action.
CT scans of woodpeckers, conducted by UC Berkeley researchers, showed that the inside of their beaks were filled with a spongy and cerebrospinal fluid that helps them absorb all that contact. They then transferred this concept to black boxes put on airplanes. Black boxes, or flight recorders, are prone to shaking and intense pressure, so the imitation of the woodpeckers’ sponge-like beak was essential for their survival.
19. Cicadas – Antibacterial
Most summers are filled with the sound of fluttering cicadas, and they’re quite hard to ignore. But while these bugs don’t seem to bring much to the table, it turns out there’s a lot more to them than meets the eye. In fact, their wings hold special antimicrobial properties that researchers have studied pretty thoroughly.
One thing they learned is that the veins in cicada wings destroy bacteria almost instantly. This was the first ever discovered natural biomaterial to accomplish such a feat. As a result, researchers aimed to replicate this into a technology that would be placed on surfaces around the city. From bus stops to subway stations, the world is actually much cleaner and safer thanks to cicadas.
20. Peregrine Falcon – B-2 Bomber
Need we say anything at all? This picture alone demonstrates the level of influence that birds have had on technology over the years. It’s well known that plane designers have always done their best to imitate our aerial friends who soar the skies.
This was done to make them more visually appealing, but mainly to improve the aircraft from a mathematical standpoint. By designing a plane that has a pointed front, air particles whiz past at a much quicker flow, and drag rate is reduced significantly. In this case, we’re looking at a B-2 bomber and a peregrine falcon. Both masterpieces, but one is all natural and the other is simply man-made.
21. Geckos – Military Climbing
Whenever we see geckos, they’re usually just hanging out on the surface of some wall or ceiling. They do it so effortlessly that it’s easy to overlook their amazing ability to stick to these surfaces. Their toe pads are naturally made for this, and eventually researchers knew their talents needed to be replicated somehow.
Scientists discovered that geckos have miniscule elastic hairs on their feet, which allows them to stick to surfaces so easily. They then implemented this concept into actual technology, based around suction cups. They ended up making an outstanding product that now U.S. soldiers can now use to scale walls more effortlessly.
22. Arapaima Fish – Body Armor
The U.S. Air Force studied the behavior of Amazonian fish, in order to learn more about how they defend themselves against vicious, lethal piranhas. The Arapaima fish in particular, while large, is incredibly slow – making themselves seemingly vulnerable to them. And yet, Arapaima Fish are surprisingly well protected against piranhas, and it’s all thanks to their rigid, steel-like outer shell.
Their scales have evolved for millions of years for the sole purpose of surviving against such attacks – and scientists decided to learn what they could from them. From rigid airplanes to unbreakable body suits, new protective technology has only improved thanks to the arapaimas.
23. Spiders and Ants – Unsinkable Metal
When it comes to cruise ships, this is obviously a sensitive topic. But while inventing an unsinkable ship seems damn near impossible, it seems that we’ve gotten pretty close. Scientists from the University of Rochester were studying the unique way that spiders and ants manage to float as well as they do.
They learned that they trap pockets of air bubbles within a self-made underwater dome, which enables them to float endlessly without sinking. Using this idea, engineers did precisely the same: they designed a type of metal that traps pockets of air, thus making it virtually impossible to sink no matter how hard it gets hit.
24. Termites – Ventilation
When most people think of termites, there aren’t many positive thoughts that come to mind. However, as vicious as they can be, termites are also shockingly intuitive when it comes to architectural design. For instance, they are able to stay cool in the sweltering African heat, and this is due to their well-designed termite mounds.
Engineers marveled over the way termites strategically placed a central hole, or chimney, in the middle of their mounds. This increases air circulation, which helps them cool down in the process. Using this exact model, designers experimented with ventilation systems that both provided cool air while conserving energy in the process.
25. Kingfishers – Trains
Train manufacturers have also based their designs off of animals. A Japanese rail company was intent on solving a problem they had; and strangely, it was the kingfisher bird that provided the solution. Their problem was that their trains made too much noise every time they exited a tunnel.
An engineer who worked at the company was innocently bird-watching when he was inspired by a kingfisher to fix this problem. He imitated the kingfisher’s long, sleek beak, and designed their trains the same way – and the result was impressive. Upon exiting tunnels, air particles now had a lot more time to ease their way in, reducing the overwhelming level of noise in those areas.
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