Billy Almon, my guest today on Inside Ideas, is very much in love with biomimicry – and it is easy to see why. In offering solutions that already exist in nature, biomimicry provides an almost endless supply of answers to the challenges facing humanity.
For Almon, his eureka moment in discovering the love for biomimicry mirrored a scene from the Matrix.
I’ve tried to find ways to kind of spread the gospel of biomimicry in a lot of ways.
He explains: “There’s a scene in the first Matrix movie at the very end, where – after Neo gets beat up and shot, he pops back up and he looks around and then it cuts to the scene where you see the green coding, and so now he has this awakening – he’s seeing everything around him in a different light and that was the experience for me of discovering biomimicry. I’d look at a tree and see it’s not just a tree it’s also a power plant. It’s also this amazing vertical plumbing model, you know – capillary action and all these things. The possibilities and the applications became endless for me.”
He went on: “The idea that nature has solved a lot of the problems that we are experiencing as humans was one of the things that grabbed me. [I thought] One: I can hopefully waste less time by turning to something that’s already been through this. Two: for it to make my product, design or process more efficient and hopefully more sustainable, then this biomimicry thing, which has been around since time and memorial – there’s something to this. So I fell into it and fell in love with it.”
Almon added: “Since then, I’ve tried to find ways to kind of spread the gospel of biomimicry in a lot of ways and so a lot of the work I do now is around getting companies, organisations, leaders and STEM educators familiar with the idea of turning to nature for solutions. A lot of it is talking to kids and showing them like ‘this robot was inspired by a cheetah or a gecko’, ‘this thing in space is actually because they studied this’.”
The practical application of these natural innovations is transforming our world, and Almon says this is now happening everywhere.
“One example that comes to mind right away is, there’s this company called Sharklet Technologies and they studied the skin of sharks which are covered in these tiny little teeth called dermal denticles. Because of these tiny little teeth, it actually serves as an antimicrobial covering on their bodies that prevents bacteria from attaching and them getting ill and infected,” Almon said. “And so this company mimicked the form of these teeth at a microscopic nano scale and they’ve created surface coverings and masks that you can put on a doorknob, or a handrail in hospitals.”
He continued: “So it’s amazing to think about this shark being the inspiration for something that can prevent the spread of an infectious disease during a pandemic. The beautiful thing about that particular example, is that it’s something that doesn’t require a lot of chemicals for cleaning, it’s a natural, antimicrobial surface. So, we don’t have to constantly reinvent the wheel and have waste which is what we tend to do, we can turn to nature.”
Almon, an astrobiofuturist, who holds a Masters degree in Biomimicry, sits on the Board of Directors for the Biomimicry Institute, the world’s leading authority on nature’s solutions to design challenges. There are few more passionate and knowledgeable about the subject and I am delighted to welcome Billy onto the show to talk about the solutions that are all around us and how we can do more to use them to develop innovations that combat global grand challenges.
Billy Almon’s expertise is in high demand, and he is asked to speak to multiple generations of inventors, designers, scientists and engineers on designing the future they wish to see. He has spoken to groups at: Harvard University, Rhode Island School of Design, Arizona State University, NASA, NAACP, Hidden Genius Project, Comic Con, and more. Previously, he was a creative director at Walt Disney Imagineering, leading efforts to develop immersive experiences and environments around the world.