Mother Nature knows best: Even more companies across industries are harnessing biomimicry principles to drive forward renewable energy and develop strong, durable materials that provide protection and promise higher performance.
Tyer Wind, a startup based in Tunisia, has developed a new wind turbine technology based on the flapping of hummingbird wings. Instead of converting linear motion into a circular motion, the turbines mimic the mechanical action of hummingbird wings — a figure-eight pattern — which generates energy on both the upstroke and downstroke.
“This is the first time that the motion of the hummingbird wings was mimicked mechanically in a very efficient way,” Anis Aouini, inventor of the Saphonian wind generator, told Seeker. “This opens new horizons regarding the way electricity could be produced in the future. Major U.S. research centers have extensively worked on the hummingbird’s aerodynamic behavior and confirmed that it is more efficient than bladed rotors.”
“Given the uniqueness of the design, Tyer technology is perfectly scalable and could be adapted to various uses and areas,” Aouini added.
Referred to as 3D Aouinian Kinematics, the new technology has the potential to find its way into other applications as well, such as mechanical pumps, combustion engines and marine propulsion.
Meanwhile, a startup called Hedgemon believes it has uncovered the secret to preventing concussions — hedgehog quills. When hedgehogs fall toward the ground, they protect themselves by rolling into a ball, surrounding itself with spines that absorb the impact. It’s an effective method that Hedgemon is now trying to simulate in the development of its helmets.
The project grew out of a class co-taught by professors from the University of Akron and the Cleveland Institute of Art, in which students were given the task of finding a biological model to address impact protection.
Current helmet models rely on three main layers for protection — an outer shell of polycarbonate, a middle layer for shock absorbency and an inner layer for padding. Hedgemon is working to improve the middle layer. “Today’s helmets generally are inadequate when it comes to multi-hit durability to withstand multiple impacts and perform at the same level every time,” said Nathan Swift, Chief Operating Officer at Hedgemon.
Concussions occur when the brain twists, turns, bounces around and becomes dismantled from its regular position. At present, helmets aren’t able to protect against these types of movements, as they fail to absorb the rotational energy that results from an off-center hit.
Hedgemon aims to add rotational components to helmets to address this issues, as well as improve overall impact absorbency and multi-hit durability. Instead of developing a full helmet, the company is designing a liner that would then be sold to helmet companies to incorporate into their products.
The current prototype features polymer spines that bend and twirl around each other to both absorb impact and lessen the impact of a hit that would typically cause the brain to rotate within the skull.
“Each individual quill has an intricate, internal structure that reinforces it and allows it to buckle elastically and return to its original states,” Swift explained. “The other part has to do with layout: the hedgehog has 7,000 spines. That’s not just strength in numbers, but the spines also overlap and interact with each other. It helps alleviate a lot of the force, but also strengthens the material and helps with absorption in that way.”
To test the material, developers at Hedgemon drop a weighted piece of metal from different heights onto the biomimetic material they’re creating. They measure the force return and use a high-speed camera to see how the material reacts.
If successful, the groundbreaking helmet could address a serious issue faced by athletes — particularly football players — across the globe, eliminating long-term brain injury and its side effects from the equation.
Finally, scientists from the Queen Mary University of London have uncovered new information about what makes reindeer antlers so strong.
Reindeer antlers are strong, resistant and capable of resisting breaking or fractures despite frequent battle over territory and mates with other reindeer. Up until now, it has been difficult to model the mechanical properties of antler bone, but Queen Mary’s new study published in ACS Biomaterials Science & Engineering reveals that two key properties are responsible for antlers’ strength and resistance: axially staggered arrangement of stiff mineralized collagen nano fibers, coupled with weak, damageable interfibrillar interfaces.
The research team believes that the new discovery can be used to create similar materials using additive manufacturing processes, and ultimately constructing better-performing products.