Launch of KTN's Nature Inspired Solutions SIG event - round up

Posted on: 10/07/2019

A full-house joined KTN for the launch of its latest Special Interest Group

Over 100 people were at the launch of¬†KTN’s latest Special Interest Group (SIG), Nature Inspired Solutions. ¬†A webcast recording of the event also saw over 250 views of the main speeches of the day. ¬†The focus was on how innovations inspired by nature could help meet industry challenges. ¬†Delegates gathered to hear from academics, industry and government and to understand more about the landscape, the aims of the SIG and the opportunities available.


The inspiration for projects described and in some cases demonstrated in the showcase was amazing.  Delegates heard about a robot that scans road surfaces for cracks that was inspired by a sightless worm; how looking at the properties of cicada wings and moth and human eyes could provide solutions to a closed loop water system on the International Space Station; how sharks, leaves and birds, particularly the albatross, are inspiring Airbus; how the lung can be a source of inspiration for flow distribution in fuel cells; and a new construction method using inspiration from the hexagon shape in bee hives.


The day started with a keynote from Marc-Olivier Coppens, Centre for Nature Inspired Engineering, UCL who outlined the work of the department and how he saw it as a transformative methodology for innovation.  He illustrated the cross-sectoral impetus of his department but was careful to caution against the imitation of nature out of context. Bio-familiarity not bio-mimicry is important.  Marc-Olivier discussed historical examples including the fact that the Eiffel Tower inspired by femur bone, as well as projects his department is working on.  These include fuel injectors for multiphase reactors modelled on lungs and trees for uniform distribution of fluid and bio-inspired membranes for water desalination.


Malica Schmidt, also from UCL, covered multi-fictional surface coatings for human spaceflight, discussing how they are studying the properties of cicada wings, moth and human eyes for solutions to creating a closed loop water system on the International Space Station.

The audience then heard quick-fire presentations from:

  • Andrew Philippides, University of Sussex, who discussed building better robots¬†by watching bees, wasps and ants
  • Jonathan Page, Animal Dynamics covering how insects, birds and fish are inspiring autonomous vehicles
  • Netta Cohen, University of Leeds who explained about her project that¬†used worms with no vision who taste their way to inspire robots to find road cracks
  • Richard Bomphrey, Royal Veterinary College on the lessons that can be learned from insects and birds around design guidelines for gust rejection, drag reduction and collision avoidance
  • Ruben Kruiper, Heriot Watt University on how on how¬†to search for relevant models in nature
  • Christoph Bruecker,¬†City University who discussed nature-inspired surfaces for marine and wind energy applications


The event also heard from¬†Gillian Whitworth, Policy Officer, Bioeconomy and Plastics, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy¬†who covered the links between the UK Bioeconomy Strategy and nature-inspired solutions. ¬†Funding for nature-inspired innovations was also discussed with Zo√´ Webster from UK Research and Innovation¬†being clear that whilst there was no specific funding for nature-inspired projects planned, the application of many of the innovations being discussed was the key – if a product solves a challenge, then funding through existing competition channels or innovation loans was available. Zo√´ cautioned that, “the¬†value proposition is important”. ¬†The most important consideration for industry is the impact and the benefits of a product and, if it is inspired by nature, that is a bonus.


Bio-mimicry is an important concept for engineers at¬†Airbus, clear evidence that this thinking is not restricted to academic labs. ¬†Innovations can translate to the commercial world of industry and have real and significant impact. ¬†Lee-Ann Ramcherita, Airbus‚Äôs ‚Äòtechnowatch and innovation manager‚Äô in flight physics discussed the company’s bio-inspired technologies and explained how sharks were influencing aircraft surfaces and how the albatross’s unlockable shoulder has inspired Airbus to develop a ‘Semi Aeroelastic Hinge’ creating free hinge wingtips that respond to gusts.


Finally, those organisations applying nature-inspired solutions to industry were given a challenge. ¬†Daniel Rahamim, Transport for London, outlined the four issues faced by London’s Tube system – heat, dust, old stock and noise/vibration. ¬†He challenged anyone to come up with a nature-inspired innovation that would help him to combat those problems.


Like all SIGs run by KTN, the aim is to convene people who wouldn’t normally meet; to learn, connect and explore opportunities. This SIG will initially focus on the application of NIS across transport, infrastructure and energy.  The SIG is run by Monika Dunkel from KTN, Knowledge Transfer Manager for Emerging Technologies and Industries.


To find out more and get involved in the SIG, contact Monika here.


To sign up for the LinkedIn group, click here.


To sign up for the NIS SIG newsletter, click here.


Watch the full webcast below:


Click here for video

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