Biomimicry 3.8 is the global leader in biomimicry innovation consulting, professional training, and educational program and curricula development. Founded by Janie Benyus, it is a non profit organization in promoting sustainability in various design fields.
Giving the design challenge for the past five years, the Biomimicry Guild is bringing together innovative minds from different fields across the world. The theme for the Biomimicry Global Design Challenge in 2015 and 2016 is "Food Systems." Teams are challenged to:
Look to the abundance of lessons nature has to offer and develop a biomimetic design that solves an important food system challenge while protecting the health of our planet.
The food systems problem is then broken down to various aspects as shown:
In the first phase of research, I looked into the problem in a macro level: "How does the food system in North America work?" "What are the existing problems in our food system?" "What have been done to improve each aspect of the food system?" As the research goes deeper, I realized that the problem in the food system is largely affected by political reasons and social structures. The popularized concept "farm to table" is not as easy and optimistic. Therefore I decided to narrow down my focus to one of the most vulnerable link in the food system- consumers.
Biomimicry is a research method of its own, which looks into how nature solves certain problems that human beings encounter. Nature's primary and single goal is to reproduce itself with minimum waste. After looking at the social structures of the chimp family, the memberane material produced by insects, the water storage ability of desert plants, finally I decide to go with the creature that has been fascinating to me for a long time -- pinecone.
Pinecone is fascinating in its golden ratio structure, where each pine nut is individually wrapped in a scale for the maximum protection. When it reaches the mature period, the scales open which allows the air circulation to spread the nuts. Taking the mere form, I started to sketch out the possible product that inherit all the features of the structure. In the beginning, my concept was to bridge the gap between the grocery experience to the storage at home. As a result, a pinecone shape fridge-shopping cart became my starting point. After the critic, the feasibility of carrying such a product, especially up and down stairs, was questioned. I then did researches on the human anatomy, field research in the grocery store, survey on the street of people who own the shopping cart, and so on. The result shows that without the high tech material that is durable, flexible, and light weighted, this idea has its limitations.
The next phase is to narrow the ambitious product goal down and more detailed-- either the shopping cart or the fridge. I sketched more to test around the scale and making it wearable for the former, but in the end, I decided to go with the fridge idea because of the benifits of the pinecone structure.
When the revised design brief is finalized, I moved on to the analysis of the precedent of refrigerators, and came up with the highlighted features that my biomimicry fridge should have: energy saving, time efficiency, easy access, odor free, better hygiene, longer shelf life, elegant form, and the most importantly, the food waste reduction. More sketches were made to study the structure of the pinecone that has then been abstracted into a sleek form. The function of the prototype requires high accuracy of each compartment, thus I used 3D modelling and printing for the final prototype. To deliver the idea of transparency, I tested out vacuum forming with various materials for individual compartment. The final prototype has the working sliding door and detachable drawers on the central core.
Surprisingly, with the research of other future concept refrigerators, I found that none of the cutting edge concepts have been realized due to the technical limitations. The biomimicry class has ended with the prototype, yet Seetorage will be an ongoing project that will further dig into the engineering part.