5 Nature-Imitating Technologies
These projects are using nature as the inspiration for their technological advances.
There are many different ways that one can define art. But, above all else; art is artificial. And since its origins, art has always reflected or symbolized nature in some way. Humanity has found great inspiration in its surrounding universe, ever since the age of cave paintings. In a way, our artificial landscape can be seen as its own sort of ecosystem. New technology uses mathematical algorithms, graphic simulations and 3-D printing to mimic natural processes, with results that are pragmatic while also aesthetically inspiring.
1. Genetic Car Design
A web developer recently released a graphic user interface (GUI) of cars racing and evolving. By the look of it, every time a new animation cycles, various polygonal primitives with two wheels each drop onto a track that is broken into many sharp peaks, troughs and awkward transitions. The 2-D simulated "cars" then proceed to race one another, which often seems to result in many (perhaps about 80%) of them stalling early on, while the elite few finish the race.
This serves as a simulation of different formations and configurations in transportation design competing with one another. Each "genome" (simulated car iteration) consists of five variables: shape, wheel size, wheel position, wheel density and chassis density. They are collectively formed into “populations,” which can be replaced by new ones by clicking a button to the right of the simulator window. The cars are very fun and interesting to watch, and it would make sense that this sort of GUI could have very practical use in transportation design and engineering.
2. Wall Art
Several different artists and organizations have incorporated biology and DNA into the visual arts. Outfits like DNA Art and DNA11 provide visual, spatial templates that, when mathematical data derived from DNA are applied, become stunning patterns of color, form and minimalistic design. The modern look of these pieces makes excellent wall art for private or commercial use.
The process involves using predefined artistic parameters to configure based on DNA components’ relationship with one another. Each piece of art then contains visual DNA data that is entirely unique to its contributor. Services like these offer schemes to customers to choose the motif they would like to see their DNA expressed in. Variables within the motif could be color, size and shape.
3. Spider Dress
Anouk Wipprecht’s Robotic Spider Dress mimics the beauty and horror of nature with its mechanized spider-like fixture protruding mechanical "legs" around its collar, which move and react to external stimuli that is input through a host of sensors throughout the dress. She seems to have first introduced the concept around 2012, but what was initially an intriguing proof of concept has become a real, completely original piece of fashion that is apparently quite functional and is sweeping both the worlds of fashion and technology. The dress is both menacing and attractive, and its 3-D printed design has a modern sci-fi look. The latest iteration even includes Intel Edison technology in the spider leg mechanism. (For more on sci-fi and modern technology, see Astounding Sci-Fi Ideas That Came True (and Some That Didn't).)
4. Cyborg Roses
The Laboratory for Organic Electronics at Linköping University in Sweden has developed a rose that has electronic circuitry connected into its roots. This is part of a research project to explore the possibility of photosynthesis as a large-scale power source. And although the prospect of harvesting photosynthetic energy from machine-plant hybrids is far off on the horizon at this point, the group was still able to impress the media (who have dubbed the plants “Cyborg Roses”) with the simple ability to electronically stimulate a change of color in the rose’s petals.
5. Genetic/Evolutionary Music
Friedrich Nietzsche once said that “without music, life would be a mistake.” But how exactly do life and nature play a role in music composition? Studies have shown that human beings are more accepting of music created by humans than of computer-generated music. But what if the computer created the music based on human DNA?
Programs such as DarwinTunes, Algorithmic Arts and the Genetic Music Project generate music that is informed by data and concepts from biology and evolutionary theory. DarwinTunes (a project developed at Imperial College London and Queen Mary University of London) begins with basic oscillations or audio primitives, which “mate” with others to develop patterns. Humans are surveyed on which patterns sound the best, and those patterns are “mated” with others in order to form musical arrangements.
Algorithmic Arts is a Texas-based research project founded by a pioneering video game and multimedia programmer by the name of John Dunn. With a background in experimental and synthesized music, Dunn has created software that models musical patterns after patterns found in DNA sequences. And the Genetic Music Project (an "open-source" online art co-op created by a Brooklyn-based attorney) puts an added emphasis on the human intervention element, essentially providing the creator’s personal DNA profile for genetic music producers to base their projects on. (For more on music and technology, see Computers - The Universal Instrument?)
It seems like the faster we learn about our own human circuitry imbued in us by nature, the faster technology starts to catch up with our design in its ability to simulate our mobility and intelligence. Technology, in many ways, is already based on the natural world. Nature created its raw materials, and machinery often reflects nature's design. Unfortunately, nature and technology have conflicted in various ways over recent centuries. But new patterns in human consumption and invention indicate that maybe soon nature and technology will evolve in harmony, and perhaps even merge with one another.