Learning from the bird of Paradise flower.

Technology4Change, a web magazine founded by the BRE Trust in 2012, has recently launched a surveyWhat is your favourite biomimetic innovation in the built environment?‘ asking the readers to choose their favourite nature-influenced creation from a picture list including:

  • Moving façades | Shading systems that fold without joints or hinges.
  • Self-healing products | North Carolina State University researchers effectively reinvigorated solar cells using channels that mimic organic vascular systems.
  • Super strong materials | MIT developed an environmentally friendly material with a similar structure to bone in just a few hours using a 3D printer.
  • Underwater buildings | Growing structures from atmospheric carbon. One process involves using an electrical current to harness adaptive growth in the structure similar to bones and trees.

Biomimicry or ‘imitating nature’ has long been used to provide innovative new solutions in buildings. Bird skulls, flowers and even human bones have all influenced a range of new weird and wonderful products. T4C has come across some fascinating products and ideas from the innovative field of biomicry and it has hand-picked some of its favourites. All readers have to do is tell which one is their favourite for the chance to see it inducted into the T4C virtual innovation showcase. Who’s going to win?

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Ok, what I like the most is … the moving façades inspired inspired by the Bird of Paradise flower. Flectofin® is a hinge-less flapping mechanism inspired by Nature, developed by a team including researchers of the University of Stuttgart (D) – Institute of Building Structures and Structural Design, the University of Freiburg – Plant Biomechanics Group and the Institute of Textile Technology and Process Engineering in Denkendorf. The The award-winning Flectofin® is inspired by a deformation principle found in the Bird-Of-Paradise flower.

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Image: Flectofin®

Its valvular pollination mechanism shows a fascinating non-autonomous plant movement which was analyzed to better understand the basic underlying principles that are responsible for the plant’s mechanical performance. The abstracted model revealed a compliant mechanism at the basis of the deformation. By examining several plant movements, comparable elastic mechanisms were found with which it was possible to gain a deeper understanding of the interacting mechanical factors. With this knowledge it was possible to rearrange the mechanism’s various structural, geometrical and material parameters, in order to develop new functional configurations. As a result, a patent for bio-inspired mechanisms was filed and registered as Flectofin.

Unlike rigid-link mechanisms that are commonly used in technical applications, the adaptability of the Flectofin® is based on elastic deflection. The advantage of replacing local and susceptible hinges with elastic deformation is in the fusion of all mechanical elements within an all-in-one pliable component. Consequentially, fully functional mechanical systems can be constructed in one production step without the need for assembly. This technology renders the possibility for novel applications in various scales, ranging from architecture, aerospace technology, and medicine to mechanical engineering.

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‘One Ocean’ Thematic Pavilion for the EXPO 2012 in South Korea (Image: soma)

The successful product development of the Flectofin® Lamella, for example, proves the feasibility of this approach and reflects the potential of advanced fabrication processes. Furthermore, using the lamella as part of a Flectofin® Facade shows the concept’s adaptability to an architectural scale and taps into new market niches. First collaborations with engineers and architects exemplify how the techniques developed for the Flectofin® can inspire architectural projects and influence our designs already today. Finally, by challenging our present mechanical understanding of biological and technical constructions, the Flectofin® clearly demonstrates an innovative paradigm shift towards an interdisciplinary knowledge transfer between biology, engineering, and architecture [from the product’s brochure].

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