How animals inspire innovation Tim Zurowski

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The progress of man is often tied to inspiration born from nature. When it comes to conflict animals have been attacking and defending far longer and more often than humans. They have evolved to be incredible predators or incredible defense systems and we have a lot to learn from them. Today many of the armor systems that armies use around the world are based on ideas inspired by animals.


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When we think of animals with tough armor, most of us think of the armadillo. The armadillo is an animal that sleeps for around 18 hours a day. It needs protection. While many think that its outer shell can protect it from a variety of predators, this is not true. There have been some theories that the shell is able to withstand bullets but this is false as well. 

Actually, the armadillo shell is not that strong. The animal uses the shell so that it can hide under prickly bushes and not get hurt. This allows it to evade larger predators. If those predators succeed in finding the armadillo then they are in big trouble. Most predators can break open or pierce the shell after a few attempts.

However, while the shell itself is not tough, the design is intelligent. The shell has many smaller segments that allow the armadillo to have flexibility. It has inspired scientists to develop a protective armor made from small glass hexagons that allow room to maneuver yet can withstand many blows. 

The Pangolin

The Pangolin is the second most thought of animal when it comes to strong armor. The animal has a tougher shell than the armadillo but again it is not the toughness that caught researchers’ attention. When Pangolins are in danger they can roll into a ball and flee a scene pretty quickly. This shows the strength of the armor to avoid cracking and is something that scientists want to emulate. Researchers believe that they can use some lessons from the Pangolin to develop armor that won’t crack.

Ironclad beetle

When it comes to a tough shell the stand out winner is the ironclad beetle. The armor of this beetle is so strong that when people want to pin it to a board (something that insect enthusiasts often do) it is not possible without a hammer. These little guys are so strong that if a car rolls over them, they will be fine.

When an ironclad beetle is in trouble he will simply tuck his legs under his protective shell and wait the predator out. The shells are made from chitin and polysaccharide, two materials that military defense teams are now looking further into. When a military vehicle takes a blast from an IED or mine the suspension is usually ruined. They are now looking to the ironclad beetle for ways to solve it. The idea is that the military will now use a titanium system that allows the suspension of a military vehicle to snap back into place. What they describe as memory metals will be incredibly tough and able to return to their original position after a blast. The ironclad beetle may have solved one of the toughest aspects of military transportation.

Whether it is the ironclad beetle, the armadillo, the pangolin or something else, man has been inspired by animals for countless years. There are countless technologies under development today that are inspired by creatures of nature. Whether it is robotic arms mimicking the trunk of an elephant or drone technology that copies the swarm behavior of a hive it is clear that the innovations inspired by nature are only getting started.