I created this image for the Biomimicry Center at Arizona State University. Biomimicry (or “bio-inspired design”) uses nature as a model for solving design, business and engineering problems. It’s also part of the curriculum for InnovationSpace, a transdisciplinary design studio I co-teach at ASU, which makes the Biomimicry Center one of my most frequent partners.

A digital illustration showing a very small robot drawing a crayon sketch of ants.

What is biomimicry?

Here’s a biomimicry example we use in InnovationSpace. Take a design question, like “How can we help people in dry climates get water?” Translate it into language that makes sense in biology. There aren’t a lot of water bottles or hydration packs in nature, but there are tons of organisms that store water or gather water from their surroundings. So ” How can we help people in dry climates get water? ” could become “How do organisms store water?” or “How do organisms gather water for their surroundings?”

Use the new question to research those organisms. When you find something interesting, like darkling beetles from the Namib Desert, who harvest water from the morning fog, translate it back into language that makes sense in design. Then use it as the basis of a new product design.

With darkling beetles, the unusual water-gathering texture of their carapaces has been used to design new materials which make existing fog-harvesting systems much more effective.

About this illustration

“Ants” is a digital painting. It started as an ink sketch on paper, and was finished in Adobe Photoshop, using Kyle T. Webster’s amazing custom brushes.

I chose ants for this illustration because Clint Penick, the biologist who teaches biomimicry for InnovationSpace, specializes in social insects like ants. You can find his website here.