Biomimicry engineering: Diving deep at the Innovation Awards
How can nature inspire the next wave of innovation? From cuttlefish to manta rays, we explore some of the novel biomimetic engineering solutions on display at this year’s Ericsson Innovation Awards. Read on.
The deep blue oceans have always fascinated me. I grew up in the far North of the world where waters are rarely clear nor have inhabitants that have bright colors or unexpected shapes. When I snorkeled for the first time, in waters a little more exotic, a whole new world came alive! An astonishingly colorful and unexpected environment for me. It made me eager to learn more about our oceans, how they interact with life on land, and how life developed from the deep blue to land.
Innovation inspired by nature
This curiosity increased when I studied for my Master of Science at university. At that time I knew of no hackathons nor innovation awards that originated in learning from nature. As a topic, biomimicry first came into my knowledge sphere about 10-15 years ago. Enhancing and encouraging innovation is a core element of the UN sustainable development framework, specifically addressed in SDG 9, Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure. The importance of inclusive innovation with a purpose to use technology for a good is a vital change maker in the world.
Day to day life is so different now. The Ericsson Innovation Awards (EIA) is now in its fifth year of challenging and inspiring young innovators to break new ground in Information Communication Technology (ICT) solutions.
This year’s awards connected innovators with our Earth’s deep seas. The competition invites students from all over the world to share their most innovative ideas which harness the power of water and underwater material environments. Many were shaped by biomimetic design and engineering, drawing inspiration from cuttlefish, manta rays, seashells, sharks and more.
This was exhibited in two of the finalists:
- A bioinspired autonomous underwater vehicle (Bio-AUV), inspired by cuttlefish, with a unique propulsion system to enable otherwise untraversable underwater exploration. This offers new potential for scientists to collect crucial data from complex reef systems, reducing the effects of climate change in underwater ecosystems
- A manta-ray inspired ocean vacuum robot which is both self-sustaining and fully automated. Using seawater-powered batteries, these smart robots collect microplastics on the seabed and are guided by satellite communication for positioning, cross-communication and autonomous movement
Of course, not all of the innovations were inspired by biomimetic design. Many simply showcased a smart and sustainable alternative to existing systems, such as the other two finalists:
- Smart and self stabilising water-wind floating turbines designed to extract energy from natural wind and marine resources – reducing dependence on fossil fuel and nuclear energy. By design, this ”Internet of ESwift Turbines (IoTs)” will self-configure to optimise power production from the cleanest sources. It can also autonomously swim back to base when maintenance is due.
- A new optical-based design for underwater communication. Through testing, this new method was found to be safer and more efficient than physical, radio frequency, and acoustic alternatives.
Grand finale at Stockholm’s Nobel Museum
All in all, the Innovation Awards comprised more than 2000 impressive concepts, with entrants from Singapore to Islamabad to Toronto and beyond. Of these, fifteen semi-finalists were identified and received mentoring by Ericsson employees, helping them to detail and precise their innovation ideas.
All four eventual finalists gathered at the Grand Final in Stockholm’s Nobel Museum in December to celebrate and find out which design would be announced as the 2019 EIA winner.
The air was filled with excitement and proud university students shared their ideas with everyone both on and off the stage. The stories as to how they had looked for ideas in the deep seas was entangling.
Team Adelaide Bio AUV from Australia were crowned the eventual winners for their innovative cuttlefish-inspired autonomous underwater vehicle. Not only did they take home the plaudits of the grand jury, but they also took with them a grand prize of EUR 25,000.
My hope for the future is that we can see, hear, experience nature more closely and learn. By combining that knowledge with our approach to technology, we can realize our intentions for a sustainable future.
Visit the Ericsson Innovation Awards page to learn more about the many brilliant designs in this year’s competition.
Explore the latest use cases where we’re deploying technology for good on the Ericsson sustainability pages.
Listen to the podcast series
Brand innovation practice Genuine X, part of Jack Morton’s, traveled to Stockholm to meet the finalists and discuss their ideas. Hear their stories below.
- Robotic cuttlefish – The University of Adelaide
- Manta-ray vacuum robots – National University of Singapore
- Smart Internet of ESwift floating turbines – Keio University Tokyo
- Underwater information at the speed of light – Istanbul Bahçeşehir University