I am sucker for the latest in biomimicry. Like many I was captivated by Janine Benyus’ book, Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature, when it was released back in 2002, so every time I see another piece on the topic I am drawn to it like a moth to the flame (is that the kind of natural behavior I am supposed to be emulating as a biomimicker?).

The latest gathering of innovations I have seen is at Treehugger. They recently posted a slideshow that highlights the freshest examples of biomimicry come to life: bullet train improvements courtesy of the kingfisher, electronics display technology inspired by butterfly wings, more durable wind turbines that echo bumpy whale fins. You get the eco-gist.

The one innovation in this batch that really caught my attention, however, was the nano air vehicle inspired by maple seeds. You know the ones. Those “helicopter” seeds that whirl slowly to the ground after separating from the branch. My brothers and I used to gather them and toss them into the air by the handful so we could watch their smooth descent – like a flock of organic daVinci devices.

Treehugger notes that the nano air vehicle “would be utilized by the military for missions in challenging weather.” Well, I am well aware that many of the world’s greatest leaps in innovation originated from military and space program applications (arial photography, improved radio communications, knee replacement joints, TANG…), so we have to sometimes grin and bear the awful truth that our military and space programs have massive R&D budgets…from which we sometimes, eventually benefit.

However, after digging around a little bit I found that these new maple seed vehicles will primarily be utilized for targeting. As in “locate and then send us back some photos of the thing we’re gonna blow up.”

Now, I know it’s war and I know it’s hell – but c’mon. These are the maple seeds of our childhoods’ being co-opted here! What’s even more amazing (and possibly, ultimately soul-crushing) is that the scientist in charge of the project was inspired by his boyhood memories of fluttering maple seeds.

Scientists: please use your biomimicry powers for good! There are so many other challenges to work on that involve saving lives instead of ending them. How else can we put these nano air vehicles to work? Couldn’t they be leveraged for helpful, non-destructive research of climate change, the great Pacific garbage patch, desertification – even targeting, only for food and medical aid air drops instead of bombs.

What other ways could we use this biomimicry breakthrough for good, not ill? Please share your ideas. In the meantime, let me hear you say it: maple seeds for peace!

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