A New Design For Drawing Pins Made By Biomimicry

Invented more than a century ago in the UK, the simply designed drawing pin is hard to know how it could be improved… unless you stick a finger into a box of these pins to try to pick one out just one from the pack, they hurt!

Designer Toshi Fukaya has just made the pins just a bit safer. He redesigned the thumbtack using a biomimetic model: a cat or it’s claws, to be specific. A cat can expose or withdraw his claws, and so now can Fukaya’s new biomimetic design of a drawing pin. Winner of a 2011 Red Dot Design Concept award, his design is covered by a hollow silicone sheath, the pin is not exposed until it’s pressed onto a hard surface like a board or a wall. A hundred year old design made safer by biomimetic design!Image

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Concentrated Solar Power

We’ve all seen concentrated solar power (CSP) plants — those rows and rows of shiny mirror heliostats all crowded around a 100-metre-high pillar, like worshippers peering up at a towering god.

The orchestra of mirrors track the sun throughout the day, bouncing rays up at the central tower where the heat is concentrated, converted into electricity and piped into the national grid. Only a small handful of these plants — like PS10, in the Spanish desert region of Andalucia — exist around the world.

Their growth is restricted thanks to their sizeable footprints. “Concentrated solar thermal energy needs huge areas,” says Alexander Mitsos, the Rockwell International assistant professor of mechanical engineering, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“If we’re talking about going to 100 percent or even 10 percent renewables, we will need huge areas, so we better use them efficiently,” he explains.

Mitsos and colleagues have come up with a new design for CSPs that reduces the required amount of land while boosting the amount of sunlight the heliostat mirrors collect. In perhaps the most beautiful example of biomimicry yet, it’s inspired by sunflowers.

The researchers at MIT, in collaboration with RWTH Aachen University in Germany, looked at the layout of current CSP plants. They put spaces between the mirrors and staggered them like seats in a movie theatre. This pattern results in shadows being cast on some mirrors, reducing the reflection of light.

Mitsos’ lab developed a computational model to evaluate the efficiency of heliostat layouts — the system divides each mirror into discrete sections and accurately calculates the amount of light each section reflects at any given moment.

Mitsos and colleague Corey Noone used numerical optimisation to fiddle with the placement of the heliostats. They brought the fanned-out layout closer together, building a spiral-like pattern that reduces land by ten percent without affecting efficiency.

Next they looked to nature to improve the design further. The florets of a sunflower — small flowers at the centre of the petals, which mature into seeds — are arranged in a stunning spiral fashion that’s impressed mathematicians for years.

The arrangement — a form of Fermat spiral — has each floret turned at a “golden angle” – about 137 degrees – with respect to its neighbour.

The researchers twisted each mirror to be 137 degrees relative to its neighbour and it made a huge difference. The optimised layout takes up 20 percent less space than the current layout of the PS10 in Spain, and even increased total efficiency.

The researchers have published their results in the journal Solar Energy, and have recently filed for patent protection on the design.

Written by Mark Brown


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The Coolest Cases of Biomimicry – Velcro

The most famous example of biomimicry was the invention of Velcro brand fasteners. Invented in 1941 by Swiss engineer George de Mestral, who took the idea from the burrs that stuck tenaciously to his dog’s hair.

Under the microscope he noted the tiny hooks on the end of the burr’s spines that caught anything with a loop – such as clothing, hair or animal fur. The 2-part Velcro fastener system uses strips or patches of a hooked material opposite strips or patches of a loose-looped weave of nylon that holds the hooks.

How many times do you see this in every day life?

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