Who would you have guessed that the design of an electric passenger train had been influenced by animal biology?
Biomimicry is a branch of science that looks to leverage the results of 3.8 billion years of evolution to solve engineering problems. It asks the question WWND — What Would Nature Do? The theory and practice are used to apply what we can learn from nature to the designs of engineered items.
The Shinkansen Electro Multiple Unit (EMU) train is part of a Japanese railway system that transports 40% of all railway passengers of the world — that's about 64 million people every day. The design of the train started in 1989 with a target date of 1994. The goal was to allow passengers to travel from Shin-Osaka to Hakata in about 2 hours and 20 minutes which would require speeds of 350 kph. Challenges of such a high-speed requirement included noise, vibration, and pressure waves occurring when the train passed through a tunnel.
On Wednesday I had the pleasure of attending a presentation by Eiji Nakatsu in the Autodesk Gallery hosted by our own Sarah Krasley — Program Manager for Sustainable Manufacturing. Dr. Nakatsu is the former Director of Technical Development and Test Operation Department of JR-West — the organization that created the railway system. He described how several engineering problems were resolved using biomimicry.
You can see the effects that biomimicry had on the design process.
Each year ~7,000 people in Japan die as the result of auto accidents. The Shinkansen train is estimated to have saved ~1,800 lives per year by replacing personal travel with mass transit. Railway travel also produces the lowest amount of greenhouse gases per passenger compared to travel by automobile, airplane, or bus.
Animal magnetism is alive in the lab.