Biomimetics: when natures becomes source of innovation

10 April 2018

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WHO IS THE MOST INNOVATIVE?

3.8 billion years of research and development! No other business, however innovative it might be, not even Google, can rival the largest, oldest and most prolific of R&D laboratories: Nature. This includes more than 15 million species which interact with each other in a dynamic equilibrium and which are at the very source of millions of sustainable innovations. It represents a source of creativity with immeasurable richness, while presenting characteristics of constant adaptation to the environment, rather than changing it. It is economical in terms of energy and resources, operating at ambient temperature and pressure, using the local materials available, and organising itself so as to not produce waste as each material used by some is transformed into nutrients for others. In summary, life is inspiring and we have a lot to learn from it when looking for a development route which is sustainable and which respects the world in which we live. Leonardo da Vinci understood this, taking a bat as inspiration when designing his flying machine.

 

EMERGENCE OF BIOMIMETICS

Theorised much later in 1997, by the American naturalist Janine Benyus, biomimetics uses the “transfer and adaptation of the principles and strategies devised by living organisms and ecosystems, in order to produce innovative goods and services, in a more sustainable way, in order to ease the challenges in our society and to make human society compatible with the biosphere”. A growing discipline, it has allowed the development of extraordinary inventions applied to today’s economic world. It is possible to classify these into three categories: innovations in area and shapes (Ex: the Shinkansen (bullet train) inspired by the kingfisher’s beak), innovations in procedures and materials (Ex: solar panels inspired by plant leaves) and innovations of ecosystems (Ex: industrial ecology inspired by natural ecosystems).

 

BEING CLOSE TO NATURE ALSO CONSISTS OF BEING INSPIRED BY IT

At Lafuma Mobilier, the proximity of the brand to nature led us to become quickly inspired by it. Thus, nature creates a lot with few resources, without spoiling anything, and without anything superfluous. These are also the principles which guide the design of our items: to be satisfied with just the strict necessities, to prove to be inventive with limited resources, optimising the quantity of materials, and also the tasks that are necessary to produce them.

 

THE RELAX, 127° OF WELL-BEING INSPIRED BY OBSERVING LIFE

The most iconic example of inspiration that we have drawn from nature probably resides in our Relax. This relaxation chair has been very successful since its creation in 1961 and this has been consistent. The essential item for relaxing times in the garden, and also for taking a nap indoors, it is praised for both its quality and its optimal comfort. This can be explained mainly by the fact that it was designed in consultation with medical professionals. In fact, they observed that blood circulation in the human body was greatly helped when the legs were positioned slightly above the heart. The Relax chair was therefore designed to allow this position, it being so beneficial to human well-being. Subsequently this observation was confirmed by NASA who, during the 1990s, conducted experiments to determine the natural position of the body when weightless, when all the limbs are relaxed. This is a natural tilt of 127°. It is this position, also called “Zero Gravity”, that one finds in the Relax chair.

 

BEING INSPIRED BY LIVING ECOSYSTEMS TO REDUCE WASTE

Lafuma Mobilier has also been inspired by certain principles of Industrial and Territorial Ecology (EIT), defined by CEEBIOS¹ as “ a consistent approach to imitate, at a regional level, in an industrial zone or area, the natural functioning of ecosystems in which the waste of some becomes the resources of others. “ Industrial and territorial ecology therefore aims to limit industrial impact on the environment by relying on a study of nature. For example, research carried out in ancient forests identified an ecosystem organisation of different living organisms, which were maintained locally, using the available resources in an optimal way over the long term. At Lafuma Mobilier, we have sought to enhance our waste, to transform it into resources for our industry sector, using a partnership with one of our main suppliers, Serge Ferrari. We have therefore encouraged our customers to bring back the used fabric so that it can be reused to make recycled Batyline fabric, which will be used to make new chairs.

These examples are still quite small, but form part of a dynamic which will keep on growing. Biomimetics has actually seen a significant increase in the last two decades and has been identified as one of the 8 vectors of the emergence of the sixth wave of innovation² . In France more than 170 research units have been identified on this subject. More than sixty or so companies, both large groups as well as small-to-medium-sized businesses, have started this approach, whatever their activity sector: energy, construction, materials, cosmetics etc

¹ The CEEBIOS (European Center of Excellence in Biomimetics of Senlis) is a network of national skills and a future demonstrator of bio-inspired innovations.

² Moody, J. B., & Nogrady, B. (2010). The sixth wave: How to succeed in a resource-limited world.