There's a scientific field called biomimetics that is all about studying nature and stealing its technology. That makes sense -- if you want to build a flying machine, you start by looking at birds. But the more we study, the more we find that biomimetics isn't just about building a more fishlike boat. Even the smallest, slimiest creatures employ tech that will some day revolutionize everything from solar panels to TV screens.
Just consider the fact that ...
#5. The Bombardier Beetle's Fuel-Injection System Beats Any Car's
The bombardier beetle is one badass motherfucker. If you mess with one of these beetles, you can expect to get sprayed with a 212-degree blast of burning, noxious chemicals from a turret on the end of its abdomen. It's like a little chemical warfare tank that will go off with just the slightest bit of provocation.
"Oh, shit. Honey, I swear this never happens."
If you think it's amazing that a lowly bug evolved to do that, it's even more remarkable when you consider the complexity of the mechanism that makes it happen. Inside, it has two different chemicals and a mixing chamber. The chemicals react and get so hot that pressure builds in the chamber, which is then released through the openings on the beetle's abdomen. It can squirt the burning jet up to 20 centimeters.
"Shit! Did I get it in your hair? I promise I wasn't trying to do that."
Lots of animals squirt poison. The bombardier beetle, however, shoots quick-fire pulses like a machine gun -- one that can fire up to 500 times a second. For the sake of context, a top-of-the-line minigun on its fastest setting will fire about 100 times a second. The beetle is able to do all of this thanks to a remarkable system of internal valves that are way more efficient than what us humans have been able to build.
How We Can Steal It:
Keep in mind, all sorts of technology requires the misting and mixing of chemicals -- everything from car fuel-injection systems to the nebulizers that asthma sufferers use. Come up with a better misting system and you can change the world.
That's why researchers took the bombardier beetle's design and used it as the model for uMist. It's here that we should point out that, in order to mimic what the beetle is born with, it takes a machine that freaking looks like this:
As you can see, mimicking the beetle's tech isn't easy. But it'll be worth it -- the beetle design allows us to control the temperature, velocity and size of the droplets being sprayed, which means the potential applications are nearly endless. We're talking about better fuel efficiency and lower emissions in vehicles and a new type of gas-turbine aircraft engine that can reignite in mid-flight if it loses power. Oh, and get this: the technology could even create needle-free injections, or as all the Trekkies out there would call them, hyposprays.
That's right. The bombardier beetle doesn't just hold the key to advanced aeronautic systems; it could also give us Star Trek medical technology.
"Of course I still respect you. Yes, I'll call you tomorrow."
#4. The Sea Mouse's Fur Is Made of Super-Efficient Fiber-Optic Cables
The sea mouse's scientific name is Aphrodita aculeata, after the Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite. Not because it's a lovable creature, but because if you look at it from the underside it supposedly looks like a vagina.
Via The Featured Creature
The scientist that named this animal has obviously NEVER seen an actual vagina.
No, we don't know why they call it a mouse when it's clearly a worm. That's not important. What is important is that the sides of the sea mouse are covered in thin hairs, called setae, that will glow red, blue or green depending on how the light hits them.
Via BBC News
That's cool and all, but it's not until you get them under a microscope that you realize what a mind-blowing job evolution does of beating even our most state-of-the-art technology.
How We Can Steal It:
You probably know that the fastest communication cables are the fiber-optic lines that zip light along a series of thin, perfectly clear glass hairs. The tech took 170 years to perfect, and manufacturing fiber-optic cables is so complicated it would take the rest of this article to explain it.
Well, yeah, of course we make it like that.
But the little clear hairs that grow on the back of that tiny sea worm thing? They're much, much more efficient than the cables we're using. All fiber-optic cables (and in fact, all cables of any kind) lose some of their signal over a distance. Fiber optics work by controlling the reflection of the light so that it bounces perfectly along the length of the cable, but the world is an imperfect place, and no medium we've come up with doesn't lose at least a little bit of the light over distances. No surface is perfectly reflective, after all.
But the sea mouse comes pretty freaking close. Its survival depends on its ability to light up its coat -- that's how it wards off predators. And its coat won't light up without exterior light hitting it. And it lives thousands of feet under the surface of the ocean, where virtually no light can reach. Therefore, millions of years of not wanting to die has allowed it to evolve spines that are nearly 100 percent efficient in their ability to reflect light.
Scientists are examining the mouse, not just so that we can steal the design of its super-efficient photonic fur, but so we can learn to actually "grow" the stuff the same way the mouse does. We're not sure why they can't just shave a bunch of the mice and glue the hairs together end to end, but they probably know what they're doing.
#3. The Blue Morpho Butterfly Does Color Better Than Your LED TV
When you hear the word "butterfly," most of you probably think of words like "graceful," "beautiful" or, if you're a fan of chaos theory, "hurricane." But if you happen to work for Qualcomm, then you're probably thinking about energy-efficient display screens right now.
"Turn it to the right and see if it gets the Bears game."
The first thing you notice about the Blue Morpho is that it seems to have given itself the gaudy iridescent paint job of a customized Honda Civic.
How it achieves that color is kind of amazing. Normally, color works like this: The surface of whatever you're looking at reflects light of a certain color and absorbs all of the other colors. For instance, plants are green because the pigment absorbs all of the colors of the spectrum except green. Green is reflected back, so the plant looks green to you.
The butterfly, however, achieves its holy-shit-what-is-going-on-am-I-on-LSD-question-mark iridescent color because its wings are covered in layers of semireflective scales. Their "color" is determined by the wavelengths of light interfering with each other. So, the brilliant blue is actually every color in the spectrum being reflected in a particular way so that blue is amplified. The result is a blue that makes all of the other blues you've seen in your life look like bullshit.
Of course, you're seeing this on a monitor, so there's that catch-22.
How We Can Steal It:
Qualcomm studied the butterflies and came up with the mirasol display for televisions, which are so energy efficient that you can't help but suspect witchcraft. They mimic the butterfly with two reflective layers with a very small space in between. The top layer reflects some light and lets the rest through to be reflected by the bottom layer. Adjust the distance between layers by microscopic amounts and you can produce mind-blowing colors using just the ambient light in the room.
Obviously, since they don't have to produce their own light, the displays are massively more efficient than the screen you're looking at now (in fact, if the image on the screen is static, almost zero energy is used). And, by the way, it gives you a much more vivid image to boot.