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Biomockery: let's study nature so we can kill ourselves!

Biomockery: let's study nature so we can kill ourselves!

I am a fan of biomimicry, but as I have posted before (here and here) and fear I likely will be forced to again (since we are, in fact, we humans, The Smartest Monkeys) I am NOT a supporter of twisting this noble practice for nefarious deeds.

I’ve unearthed from the unsavory depths of humanity’s dark underbelly the latest example of what I am calling “Biomockery”: innovations based on nature’s lessons and guidance used for ill (i.e. weaponry, poison, habitat destruction, havoc-wreaking, and general death-dealing). This one, like my previous post on the topic, comes gift-wrapped from our grinning friends in the U.S. military.

Yes, the Office of Scientific Research of the U.S. Air Force is studying bats (and birds and insects) that can fly in all kinds of difficult weather and still maintain their balance, agility, and adaptability. Why? Why else?! To mimic the characteristics of these supreme fliers in new unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV’s) – you know, flying robots the military uses to perform reconnaissance as well as attack missions.

But wait! Our fly-boys are getting help from researchers at Brown University and the University of Michigan, so they’re not going it alone. College can kill, too, you know.

My source material states: “Bats, the only mammals that can fly, have fluid wings that are nearly as dexterous as human hands. They are also able to withstand very strong wind gusts. The research teams are studying these two areas in particular…Wing flexibility will be a key component of the future UAV’s.”

Cool. Let’s copy it so we can kill some other people with different colored skin without putting our own skin at risk. Yes, I know this research and implementation may eventually trickle down to the private sector and be used for more peaceful, more mindful, more ecologically sound endeavors – and I know the military has more money than, well, God, so they get to do the research first. But, I’ve said it before and will say it again – “Scientists: please use your biomimicry powers for good!” – and if you decide not to, please don’t call it “biomimicry” – call it what it is: biomockery.

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An Adbusters "One Flag Competition" entry from Rory Brady of London.

An Adbusters "One Flag Competition" entry from Rory Brady of London.

Here’s another clearly subversive yet wholly inclusive idea from Adbusters: design a flag that represents global citizenship. The “One Flag Competition” combines individual creativity with global community to powerful effect. Here’s the call to action:

“We invite you to create a flag – free from language and well-worn clichés – that embodies the idea of global citizenship. A symbol that triggers pride and cohesion, whether worn on a backpack, displayed on a door, or flown on a flagpole. A symbol for anyone to declare membership in a growing and vital human cooperative. We invite you to prove that design has a real role to play in the fate of our world.”

I’ve looked through the flags and voted. It was a tough choice as they are all provocative and compelling. Looking through the gallery made me long for a global flag that would fly over us all, reminding us to pledge allegiance to our fellow humans, our fellow creatures, our glorious ecosystems, our potential evolution here together – and to stop kneeling before economies, military might, and the trappings of empire. Go vote and be inspired!

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!

Here in my neighborhood (shout out for 78757!) we have intriguing, fantastic non-human neighbors. Sure, we have opossums, grackles, grey squirrels, doves, house wrens, etc. – all of whom we love and appreciate, but there are some creatures that are especially pleasing to encounter due to their uniqueness, their ability to make you holler “Hey, everybody, did you see that?!”

My family and I see, with some frequency, an albino squirrel (at least one, though there may be more) crossing the street just a few blocks north of our home. Nearby we regularly see a small family/flock of urban parakeets that frequents a particular group of birdfeeders. And, recently, in our own front yard I was doing some nighttime watering of our young trees (“Gardening at Night”) and while digging away some leaves and mulch around a tree base I rustled up some phosphorescent worms (I would provide a link here but can find no proof on the Internet that glowing worms actually exist in Texas).

Now, these features occur naturally or are based on adaptive techniques that the animals simply “do” or “are” based on genetics and a drive to survive, even thrive. They didn’t “choose” to glow green, have white fur or live beyond a rainforest. But each time I, being a human, see them I can’t help but do a little reverse anthropomorphizing and think about my various human qualities that are adaptive or can be exploited to express myself, be more myself, evolve myself.

What is my phosphorescence equivalent I should be wielding? What is my red-eyed twin I should be engaging? How do I adapt and create new ways of living when I am out of my element? AND, perhaps most importantly, how often in my life have I hidden those qualities (gifts!) because fitting in was safer or easier? (hid my light beneath the bushel)

I challenge us to stick our oddities out there more and see what happens. I want to feel good about someone pointing at me and saying “Hey, everybody, did you see that?!”