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Car Engineers Get Inspiration From Nature

MUNICH (dpa) – Car makers are going organic. They are increasingly seeking inspiration from the natural biological world.

For while new technology has brought many technical advances, it is still far outstripped by evolution.

The three-litre engine may be a miracle of efficiency, but it pales in comparison to the humming bird that can fly for 800 kilometres non-stop, despite weighing just a few grams. And the best winter tyres in the world look flimsy compared to a polar bear’s paw.

Bionics, the science of constructing artificial systems that have some of the characteristics of living systems, is enjoying a wave of popularity in all industrial sectors.

German manufacturer BMW says the principal has been in use since the 1960s – indeed since Leonardo da Vinci developed his first flying machine based on a bird skeleton. But bionics today have never been more popular.

Professor Werner Nachtigall, a leading German bionics expert, recently told the German specialist journal AutoForum the aim is not to copy nature but to recognize the connections and use the solutions systematically.

One of the most popular examples for the transfer of nature on to technology is the lotus flower, which has leaves that protect it against dirt. The discovery of the microscopically small dimples responsible for this, have brought researchers many benefits, including the stay-clean wash basin and toilet bowl.

The paint manufacturer BASF Coatings in Muenster, Germany, among others, is currently working on a car that no longer needs to be taken to the car wash. And tyre manufacturers have developed tyres with side walls that stay clean – although they are still too expensive to go into production.

The tyre industry has found more inspiration from the natural world. The gecko, with tiny hairs and toes that allow it to scale vertical walls, has inspired tyre treads. And developers have also learned from cats’ paws and frogs’ feet. The special tread of Continental winter tyres TS 780 were inspired by the skin on the toes of the South American tree frog, a tropical climbing expert.

Car engineers are studying Mother Nature just as closely. German car maker Opel has developed an electronic simulation system for load-bearing parts based on the way trees and bones grow. They have natural reinforcements in points that take particular strain while other parts are much thinner than engineers had originally planned. As a result, the Opel Astra engine mounting has 60 per cent less internal tension and therefore weighs less than a conventional part.

Meanwhile, fellow German car maker BMW is developing almost invisible films of scales for car bodyworks inspired by the skin of a shark. The idea is further to reduce drag.

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