1. Innovation - an Age old Technique - Kiran Kumar Guduguntla 1
Innovation: An Age old Technique
Kiran Kumar Guduguntla PMP, CSM
Honeywell Technology Solutions, Bangalore, India
Abstract: Innovation comes from the inner urge to solve a problem either individual or customer is facing.
It could be a simple differentiated feature or complex and integrated approach but for sure it is to solve a
particular problem. Innovation has become integral part of daily business survival. In this competitive
world, differentiating a product either with innovative feature or innovative product is the only way to win
or compete. Current economic crisis is posing challenges to the cost in terms of serving, selling and
manufacturing and demanding more productivity. Companies are investing lot of time and money to
innovate products either to reduce the costs and/or to increase the productivity or efficiency. There are
different approaches currently companies are adopting for innovation. One such highly successful
approach is biologically inspired approach. Looking at nature, understanding and analyzing and applying
to our real world problems is an old technique but highly successful technique. This paper explains about
the methodical approach one should adapt in order to reap the benefits using this age old technique.
Keywords: Biologically Inspired Design, Innovation, Nature
Creating breakthrough innovations with a clear differentiation is a key strategy for almost all companies in
the current economic scenario and in the increasingly tight competition. A breakthrough innovation is a
substantial innovation with a vital improvement in an existing system. An important pre-requisite for the
development of substantially new products is the identification of breakthrough ideas quickly and more
reliably for problem solutions in the front end of the innovation process. A new and creative solution
usually results either from the fusion of pieces of knowledge that have not been connected before or
completely radical thinking like relating nature for the solving the human problems.
Biological knowledge is exploding year after year and providing lot of insights about the environment, how
it protects and adapts to various conditions. Utilizing this information for new product innovation is key in
century to come out with better and environmental friendly products. Biologically Inspired Design
(BID) is gaining momentum and being looked more frequently for solving engineering problems.
This paper first explains the Nature and its ability of self innovation, then bring out the Biologically
Inspired Design (BID) methodology and some of the product examples developed using biologically
inspired design. Further it highlights out the difference between traditional and biologically inspired
innovation approach. It also highlights Biomimicry and Biomimicry thinking, which is a methodical
approach for innovating new ideas and products.
2. Nature as a model, measure, and mentor
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Nature presents the best example about solving complex problems efficiently and effectively. Emulating
Nature make sense as it has billions of years of experimentation and adaption and is continually evolving the fittest
design for cooperating with the environment, while being clean, green and sustainable. The core idea is to
leverage the nature’s approach in relating and solving many problems that we are currently dealing with.
So the next question comes…
How does nature teach?
How does nature learn?
How does nature heal?
How does nature communicate?
Janine Benyus, biologist, innovation consultant, and author of six books, rightly said in her interview …
“Quieting human cleverness is the first step. Next comes listening, then trying to echo what we hear. This
emulating is hard and humbling work. When what we learn improves how we live, we grow grateful, and
that leads to the last step in the path: stewardship and caretaking, a practical thanksgiving for what we've
Doing it nature's way has the potential to question the current harvesting methods used for growing our
food and materials manufacturing process. It teaches various energy harvesting techniques, self healing
techniques, information storage, and in conducting business successfully. In each case, nature would be
model, measure, and mentor. Nature as model, would manufacture the way animals and plants do, using
sun and simple compounds to produce totally biodegradable fibers, ceramics, plastics, and chemicals.
Besides providing the model, nature would also provide the measure-we would look to nature as a
standard against which to judge the "rightness" of our innovations. Finally, our relationship with nature
would also change. Instead of seeing nature as a source of raw materials, we would see nature as a
source of ideas and as a mentor.
Biological knowledge is doubling every five years and this knowledge is available to the entire world over
internet. For the first time in history, instruments like scopes and satellites developed to observe the
minute level i.e. how neuron in thought or watch in color as a star is born. When we combine this
enormous and exploded information with scientific knowledge, we suddenly have the capacity to
understand the nature like never before.
3. Innovative and novel products using Biologically Inspired Design (BID)
Biologically inspired design (BID) is a science that studies nature's best ideas and tries to mock these
designs and processes to solve human problems. It is definitely a rapidly growing area for innovating
new products. Biologically inspired as an approach to innovation is not new idea, this was present in
the early stages of our scientific development such as telephone, airplane etc. By definition,
Biologically Inspired Design (BID) is based on cross-domain analogies; further, biologically-inspired
approaches to design have a certain degree of openness to innovation. Biologically Inspired Design
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(BID) provides a useful context from which to practice innovative design. By adapting principles from
these natural solutions, engineers have realized many innovative and novel products, including
Velcro based on the hooked seeds of the burdock plant, dry reusable tape based on Gecko feet, self-
cleaning paint based on the leaves of the Lotus plant, and a better solar cell based on leaf. This is
what we call it as "innovation inspired by nature". Some more products inspired by Biologically
Inspired Design (BID) are highlighted below:
a. Self–cleaning paints
Let me elaborate more about the innovation related to self–cleaning paints. Atlanta based company,
by name Sto Corp., developed self cleaning paints inspired by lotus leaves about how they remain
spotless without a bar of soap. The secret lies in the fine microstructure of the leaf, which induces
water to form tiny beads that roll off the surface taking dirt along with it. We could use this technique
in order to avoid spending large amount of money for keeping things clean. It would also avoid the
usage of harmful chemicals, detergents, liquids and soaps for keeping things clean. It would also
avoid the development and usage of such materials which intern save lot of time, money and
especially the environment.
b. Bug Eye
Another recent example is BAE Systems’ ‘Bug Eye’ technology. When out in the field at night,
soldiers need the ability to see and have a wide field of vision. Night vision cameras typically don’t
have a wide field of vision, and current fish eye lenses often used to solve this problem also distort
images and are problematic for monitoring and tracking. Alex Parfitt’s team at BAE Systems took
inspiration from a 4mm bug – the Xenos peckii – which have 50 separate lenses each creating a
separate image that are stitched together to give a single, large panoramic view.
c. Bio-inspired brain
Bio-inspired brain to help robots think for themselves, Engineers at NUI Galway and the University of
Ulster are developing bio-inspired integrated circuit technology which mimics the neuron structure
and operation of the brain and will help robots to think for themselves in search-and-rescue
operations and space exploration
There are many other areas where Biologically Inspired Design (BID) is being used - Biological and
artificial neural networks, Bio systems, cognitive models and computational tools, biological sensors
and biological materials to name few. Really, an explosion happened in this area and evolution is
faster than the previous years.
4. Approach for Biologically-inspired innovation
There are a numerous examples of Biologically Inspired Designs today, but the adoption seems to be
very low. Common reasons for this low adoption are due to its interdisciplinary nature, particularly at the
professional level and availability of relevant information. Bio-technologists or interdisciplinary groups with
technologists and biologists are another way to attack the problem of interdisciplinary. With booming
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Internet and using this as a source of information problem of availability of relevant information is getting
Another way to increase this adoption is by combining Art and Design. Art and design can play a crucial
role in bridging the disciplines, notes visual artist Rob Kesseler, a former NESTA–Fellow, and Professor
of Ceramic Art & Design at Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design. “There’s an awareness that
common ground is an increasingly important place to be.” Perhaps more so now than ever, design
inspiration lies beyond the naked eye. Rob collaborates with scientists to visualize some of the hidden
structures in Nature such as pollen grains. Often asked how this might benefit science, Rob replies that
it’s about exposing the territory in an engaging way: “Scientists desperately need to get their images out
there for communication – communication follows through to promotion, which follows through to
Biology hasn’t traditionally been considered to be an important source of knowledge for designers.
Designer in any profession while designing something new, be it components, products, buildings, or
systems, Nature should be considered as a design Source book. This consideration should get in to the
innovation process. Several academics and organizations have grasped this and are developing different
approaches to this problem.
There are multiple approaches available in order to use Biologically-inspired design (BID) for effective
innovation. Biomimicry is one of the well known, popular and highly successful methodical approach.
Biomimicry (from bios, meaning life, and mimesis, meaning to imitate) is a new science that studies
nature's best ideas and then try to replicate these designs and processes to solve our day to day
human problems. Simple example is studying a leaf to invent a solar cell which can take more solar
energy and store it. Nature which consists of Animals, plants and micro species solved these
problems billions of years ago and still trying to solve and adapt to the current environment.
We are revealing the nature’s secrets with constant research and study which intern helps us in better
imitation. Scientists are studying plants, leaves, insets, microbes, forests, minute neurons and cells
for new innovative products and in order to make the current engineered solutions more clean and
green. Biomimicry thinking shown in Fig 1, an innovation process model proposed by the Biomimicry
3.8 Institute, evolved over the years in order to come up with better Biologically Inspired Design (BID)
approach. This step by step methodical process is explained below:
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Identify the Engineering problem to be resolved.
Relate this problem to the nature and ask does
this exist in nature, if so, how does it react and
solve this problem. Basically integrate life
problem to the nature.
Look for biologists who is in this field and start
interacting with them for sharing the
interdisciplinary perspectives and models
Figure out the strategies nature follows and how
does it react to it multiple times and understand
the process with which it does consistently and
Deliberate this between interdisciplinary groups
about bringing this to our artificial world. Does
these related materials and processes are
already available with us or not.
Start developing ideas and methods to emulate
these and see how does the end solution looks
Measure it with nature and life’s principles. Fig 1. Biommicry Thinking
This approach can be used at different levels: On the one hand it can serve as an idea-stimulation
tool in a creativity workshop, on the other hand, deep and long-term research is performed.
Biomimicry is an interdisciplinary approach. To adapt this approach biologist with additional technical
knowledge are needed as well as engineers with some biological background and knowledge.
Knowledge of this interdisciplinary team can be enhanced by providing access to all the biological
information and processes, catalogues, databases, research advancements. One main principle of
biological solutions is to achieve a maximum effort with minimal resources.
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i-Fabric project broadly used Biomimicry thinking approach in order to solve the problem of coming
out with thermally responsive and adaptive fabric that can be made into clothing in order to provide
thermoregulation for the user in extreme temperature environments. This was integrated with life’s
principles, to figure out how organisms in nature capable of maintaining consistent body temperatures
using least amount of energy. Then designers discovered six different sources of biological
inspiration, including: penguins, wood storks, arctic wolves, beehives, Kenyan chameleons, and
humans. Each source was brainstormed, and an initial solution was selected based on the beehive,
which uses the phase transition properties of a paraffin wax, called octadecane to store and release
heat to moderate the temperature of the hive. The core principle which octadecane uses is a phase
transition technique. Emulation of the phase transition material with heat conducting fibers that could
manage heat distribution from one location of the body to another was developed.
5. Traditional Vs Biologically Inspired Innovation
Idea generated by traditional innovation doesn’t need to be socio benefit able. As it doesn’t mimic nature,
so it can’t be measured with nature as a reference. This is really causing a lot of harm to our environment.
This harm is being heavily noticeable and scientists are looking for alternatives, better and different ways
to solve the same problem without harming the environment. Unlike traditional method, Biologically
inspired innovation, keeps that simplicity required for the development of the new products right from the
beginning. Neither it uses lot of energy to produce the products nor does it release toxic chemicals as
If we draw an example of traditional manufacturing of Kevlar high-tech material, we use concentrated
sulfuric acid and boil it at very high temperatures and force fibers to align by using high pressurizing
techniques. This traditional method uses lot of energy and releases high toxic byproducts which cause lot
of harm to the nature and human kind. Contrary to this, Biologically inspired innovative approach has
been used to mimic spider which produces waterproof silk that beats Kevlar for toughness and elasticity.
Spider manufactures it using water at room temperature. It takes flies and crickets at one end and
produces this miracle material.
We began to use artificially available petrochemical products for our products and thought those were the
superior ways to synthesize and build our products. Then we suddenly started realizing that emergency
sires were blowing everywhere and nature is getting destroyed and giving threat to all the species on the
earth. So we are forced and pushed towards finding more sustainable ways to live on the earth and
especially development of eco-friendly products. Equally Biomimicry, which is our knowledge how natural
world works is growing, and it is getting possible to come up with a better ways to live and come out with
more sustainable products. In order to do this, Biomimicry thinking, a methodical approach for innovation
is required for today’s engineers to solve the real world problems.
 Brent Nelson, Jamal Wilson, Jeannette Yen (2009) A Study of Biologically-Inspired Design as a
Context for Enhancing Student Innovation
 Janine M. Benyus. (1997) Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired By Nature: William Morrow;
7. Innovation - an Age old Technique - Kiran Kumar Guduguntla 7
 Janine M. Benyus, Biomimicry 3.8: A Biomimicry Primer
 Michael E. Helms, Swaroop S. Vattam, Ashok K. Goel (2007) Problem-Driven and Solution-Based
design: Twin Processes of Biologically Inspired Design
 Michael Helms, Swaroop S. Vattam and Ashok K. Goel (2009) Biologically inspired design: process
 Marc Weissburg, Craig Tovey, Jeannette Yen (2010) Enhancing Innovation Through Biologically
 Swaroop Vattam, Michael Helms, and Ashok K. Goel (2007) Biologically-Inspired Innovation in
Engineering Design: A Cognitive Study
Kiran Kumar Guduguntla is a Program Manager at Honeywell Technology solutions,
Bangalore, India. He received B.E. (Computer Science) from Vellore Institue of
Technology, Vellore, India and an M.S. (Software Engineering) from Illinois of Institute
of Technolgy, Chicago, USA. He is a Project Management Professional (PMP) from
PMI and a Certified Scrum Master. He is a green belt certified. His areas of interests
are Strategy, Emotional Intelligence, Customer Relationship Management, and