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Woodpeckers are often perceived as those annoying little birds that disturb your relaxing Sunday afternoon nap by continuously pecking on the trees in your backyard. While that may be a problem for many, this has gotten some scientists and designers scratching their heads on just how they do it. Research has found that human brains can withstand shocks with a G force of about 20 to 160 Gs (G is earth’s gravity) whereas woodpeckers withstand an equivalent G force of 1200 Gs when converted to human units, and they peck on the tree almost 18 to 22 times a second! (don’t just take my word for it, read it here - https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-3182/6/1/016003)
When studied closely, scientists found that woodpeckers have evolved into perfect shock absorbers. Their beaks are hard but elastic, they have a springy tongue-supporting structure that extends behind their skull. Unlike humans, their brains are at an angle with the line of impact and have a spongy bone at the back to absorb shocks. When they peck, they position their bodies and their beaks into a near-perfect right angle to maximize the impact and torque.
This ability of the woodpecker to absorb impacts has been the inspiration for many new designs. For example, in situations like airplane crashes, the black box is investigated to learn the actual cause of the crash. New black box designs contain a small shock absorption cushion material to protect the box from impacts. As a part of his graduate thesis project at the Royal College of Art, Industrial designer Anirudha Surabhi took a personal experience of a concussion due to a minor bike injury and designed a better bike helmet, Kramium, which is strong, lightweight, and claims to protect the riders 3 times better than conventional helmets. The helmet on the cover photo of this article is his design that uses corrugated boxes for impact absorption (image credits to Anirudha Surabhi). Nick Fry, chief executive of Formula One team Mercedes GP Petronas based in Brackley, UK, says such ideas could feed into crash protection for drivers taking part in motorsport: “One big issue with Formula One is protecting the driver by getting them to decelerate in an accident situation in such a way that his internal organs and brain aren’t turned to mush. We do that with the clever design of composites, very sophisticated seat belts, and a head and neck restraint system, but this research might be something we can draw on in the future – it could be very interesting.”
Thank you, Anirudha Surabhi, researchers at UC Berkeley, for your designs, research, and contribution to humanity.
Understanding nature and its meticulous efforts in the form of evolution of different species that thrive in different environments has given us millions of years of research and development, as we can call it. Hence, it only makes sense to take advantage of such an invaluable resource to design better products and solve many of our problems. Biomimicry is the imitation of the models, systems, and elements of nature to solve 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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Thank you so much for reading!