NOIA Network and a Well-Balanced Future

Biomimicry is the design and production of materials, structures, and systems that are modelled on biological entities and processes. In other words, it’s a search for inspiration for innovation by observing nature. It’s like outsourcing your research and development to mother nature whose got 3.8 billion years of experience.

Take Japan and it’s metro system as an example. The Tokyo rail system serves around 14 billion passengers per year and runs 102 separate lines. Such a legendary metro system is the result of a decades long collaboration between the community, civil engineering and urban planners. However, the lowly slime mold — a single-celled organism that is neither animal, plant or fungus — solves similar complex spatial problem in a matter of just a few days. This brainless slime mold is actually able to remember, decide and solve complex optimization problems. How did it develop this skill?

The answer — 600 million years of experience. During this time, slime mold has survived through countless rounds of evolutionary competition. If we could capture the essence of this ancient adaptive network formation system and apply it to engineering and biological models, it would certainly inspire new algorithms that guides network construction in many domains.

Biomimicry in Action

Shinkansen Bullet

It’s a train in Japan that travels 200 miles per hour. Fastest in the world. But after its initial launch it had a major noise problem. Everytime the Shinkansen Bullet emerged from the tunnel, it caused a change in air pressure which would result in thunder-like sounds that were heard from a quarter mile away. The train’s chief engineer was a bird-watcher. To solve this problem he took inspiration of a narrow profile of a kingfisher’s beak and made the train more aerodynamic. The result? A train consumes 15% less electricity, goes 10% faster than before and does not produce the thunder-like sounds when leaving the tunnel.

Sharkskin Swimsuit

Sharkskin-inspired swimsuits received a lot of attention during the 2008 Summer Olympics when the spotlight was shining on Michael Phelps.

At a microscopic level, sharkskin is made up of countless overlapping scales called dermal denticiles (or “little skin teeth”). The denticiles have grooves running down their length in alignment with the water flow. These grooves disrupt the formation of turbulent swirls of slower water, making the water pass by faster. This rough shape also serve another function. It discourages parasitic growth.

Scientists have been able to replicate dermal denticles in swimsuits (which are now banned in major competition) and for the bottoms of boats. Even a single percent in efficiency means cargo ships burn less bunker oil and don’t require cleaning chemicals for their hulls. This technique is now also used to create surfaces in hospitals that resist bacteria growth — the bacteria can’t catch hold onto the rough surface.

Termite office building

Termite dens are surprisingly comfortable places to live. As the temperature outside can swing wildly from lows of -1°C to highs over 37°C throughout the day, inside the termite den, the temperature holds steady at a comfortable (to a termite) 30°C.

Mick Pearce, the architect of Eastgate Centre in Harare, Zimbabwe, was inspired by the genius of termite architects so he studied the cooling chimneys and tunnels of termite dens. Those lessons went into the design of the 333,000 square-foot Eastgate Centre. The building has large chimneys that draw in cool air at night to lower the temperature of the floor slabs, just like termite dens. During the day, these slabs retain the coolness, greatly reducing the need for supplemental air conditioning. The results? The building uses 90% less energy to heat and cool than traditional buildings.

Mimicking Nature by Accident

The leaf-cutting ants do not have a leader or inefficient management structures. Social insect colonies tend to work as a decentralised system, which is composed of more or less autonomous units; cooperating and distributed in the environment managing ‘local information’. Looking at the architecture of NOIA, it would seem that the natural shape and intelligence of the network formed as if all by itself.

Moving along the patterns of nature serves as proof that NOIA Network is headed for a better balanced and sustainable future. Nature remains an inexhaustible source of top design lessons waiting to be applied and we’ve only begun discovering them.


Originally published at noia.network on October 1, 2018.