What did Japanese transportation engineers learn from brightly colored Kingfisher birds?
The Japanese bullet trains, called the Shinkansen, carry
passengers efficiently all over the country, at speeds greater than 200
miles per hour. But they were causing noise pollution. A FastCompany story, "Bird Beak on Trains and Bee Eyes on Cars: Biomimicry in Transportation" explains
the problem. As the snub-nosed train passed through tunnels, pressure
built at the front end, causing a sonic boom at the train's exit.
Engineers noticed the kingfisher has
a long beak that tapers from stem to tip, allowing for smooth dives
into water. When they gave the train a similar nose and made some subtle
changes to the power supply, they eliminated the booms, increased speed
by 20 miles an hour, and used 15 percent less energy.
The story describes other biomimicry successes. In 2008, Nissan designed a small robotic car with a crash avoidance system based on the bees' ability to survey a full 300 degrees surrounding it because of its compound eyes. And of course, biomimicry enthusiasts love ants. Industrial designer Bryan Lee designed A.N.T. (Aid Necessities Transporter) on
the basis of the ant's perseverance in transporting food and carrying
as much as 50 times its own weight. The ant-inspired vehicles are
designed for use in natural and man-made disasters, where people need
rescue in difficult terrain and emergency food and housing. Ants have
also helped computer scientists discover the most efficient vehicle
routes for delivering everything from packages to gasoline. Ants leaving
the hive to forage for food leave chemical signals in their path. Ant
majorities will choose the most direct routes from hive to food,
strengthening the signals along the way, and the signals left on the
inefficient routes will fade away.
The slime mold also
intrigues the mathematically imaginative. When Japanese researchers put
a single-celled slime mold on a surface surrounded by oat flakes
representing the locations of the country's high speed rail stations,
the mold reached each spot in the most efficient way, actually
approximating the existing rail network. It did the same thing when
topographical obstacles were put in its way. Scientists think the mold
may inspire mathematical models that can make future transportation
networks even more efficient. Read the FastCompany story here.
Japanese and German transportation experts are also experimenting with new train technology called magnetic levitation, or
Maglev. The main difference between a conventional train and a Maglev
train is that the Maglev doesn't have afuel-fed engine that pulls the
train along steel tracks. The train is propelled instead by a magnetic
field created by electrified coils in track and guideway walls.
Happy New Year! Another FastCompany story offers some provocative New Year's Resolutions. One, for instance, is "Wake Up Stupid Every Day." Be open to new ideas-don't assume you already know them.