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In the 1960s, the Japanese decided to connect their cities by developing the high-speed trains known as the Shinkansen trains (more popularly known as the bullet train). These trains transported passengers to various cities on the three islands of Japan. Today, there are 9 networks of the Shinkansen trains and 3 more are under construction. These trains were engineering masterpieces traveling at speeds of up to 360 kph (224 mph) at a time when there was no internet available for public use as it is today. These trains were designed by the most successful team of engineers at the time setting an example to the world that Japan can make the impossible possible. The quest for more of such high-speed trains began and they continued to make the newer models better and even faster. They solved countless problems while designing the trains, some of which are worth taking a look at.
One such problem they faced when they were designing the bullet trains was that when the trains passed through a tunnel, it made a sonic boom like sound while exiting the tunnel which disturbed the people living in the nearby residential areas. This problem was not due to the design of the train, rather it was created as a result of such fast speeds of the train. When the train passed through a tunnel, the air inside the tunnel was compressed by the incoming train and as the train left the tunnel, the sudden expansion of the air created that sonic boom. To solve that problem, the designers went back to the drawing board. But within the design team was one such engineer whose ideas not only changed the fate of those residents but created the fastest trains in the world!
Eiji Nakatsu was an avid bird watcher. He noticed how different birds lived and flew and caught their prey. With a closer look, he took inspiration for the Shinkansen train design from birds. He designed the front of the train mimicking the way kingfisher bird dove in the water to catch its prey without making any splash or hurting its neck. He also redesigned the pantograph, which connects the train to the overhead electric cable lines, by mimicking the shape of feathers of the owl. They tested the new design in the wind tunnel and found a 15% reduction in the energy consumption, a 10% increase in the speed and the noise level came down to below the limit of 70 decibels. This observation was remarkable which changed the course of the bullet trains forever.
The owl, the kingfisher evolved millions of years into what they are today, hence we already have research and development done by nature. If we design our products and systems based on nature’s process and ecosystems, we can build a truly sustainable world which, I’m sure, will be far better than today.
Living organisms have evolved well-adapted structures and materials over geological time through natural selection. Biomimetics has given rise to new technologies inspired by biological solutions at macro and nano scales. Humans have looked at nature for answers to problems throughout our existence.
Biomimetics or biomimicry is the imitation of the models, systems, and elements of nature for the purpose of solving complex human problems. The terms "biomimetics" and "biomimicry" derive from Ancient Greek: βίος (bios), life, and μίμησις (mīmēsis), imitation, from μιμεῖσθαι (mīmeisthai), to imitate, from μῖμος (mimos), actor. The field of Biomimicry, as it is today, is largely the contribution of Janine Benyus, a biologist, author, and an innovation consultant.
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