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Bat to the future: Biomimicry's best designs from the animal kingdom

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Scientists increasingly turning to nature to improve the efficiency of engineering
  • Bats and bees are inspiring advances in science and engineering
  • Sea creature helping create a new Super Glue which could heal shattered bones
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Watch Earth's Frontiers show on biomimicry at the following times: Thursday, June 24, 12.30, 16.30; Saturday, June 26, 7.30, 17.30, 20.00; Sunday, June 27 03.00, 07.30, 15.00. All times GMT

London, England (CNN) -- The innate characteristics of animals, birds and insects are helping inform a growing number of science and engineering projects all over the world.

"It's a two-way process," Simon Whiteley from the center for ultrasonic engineering at the UK's University of Strathclyde told CNN. "As you gain more capability, then you can attempt more ingenious, more complex ideas."

With colleagues from Strathclyde and researchers at the University of Leeds, Whiteley has developed a prototype sonar device which replicates how bats navigate the nocturnal world.

Using a wireless microphone sensor mounted on a tiny backpack, researchers were able to listen to the sounds adult Egyptian fruit bats made while flying.

The echos created by bats' calls -- called "echolocation" -- enable them to fly and hunt for prey in the dark with incredible precision.

By studying the different types of echo, Whiteley and his team have been able to mimic them. The hope now is that similar signals can now be employed in engineering systems.

"We are currently looking to apply these methods to positioning of robotic vehicles, which are used for structural testing," he said.

The study published in the Institute of Physics journal, Bioinspiration & Biomimetics in May 2010 is just one of many studies which are, as Whiteley says, "inspired by what happens in nature."

Research into the night vision of the dung beetle by Australian scientist Eric Warrant has inspired the creation of an algorithm by mathematicians at Lund University in Sweden. The innovation, say its Swedish creators, "dramatically improves video footage captured in dark environments."

Learn more about biomimicry designs inspired by plants

Commerical applications could include integrating the technology into mobile phones to improve camera and video functions. And auto maker, Toyota are looking to utilize the device to a create night vision system for their cars.

Meanwhile, scientists at the U.S.'s University of Utah are hopeful that a synthetic adhesive which copies the glue secreted by a sandcastle worm -- a tiny sea creature -- can find a use in hospitals.

The glue sticks to wet surfaces and could replace metal pins and screws currently used to repair shattered bones.

Termite mounds are inspiring the construction of buildings which use passive cooling.

The Eastgate Center in Zimbabwe's capital, Harare and the O-14 tower, currently under construction in Dubai, use the principals of termite mound ventilation to create buildings which regulate interior temperatures without the need for expensive heating and cooling systems.

Buildings like these may eventually receive electricity generated from a wind turbine which mimics wing movements of the bumblebee.

American start-up Green Wavelength says that their novel design -- currently a 19 foot prototype -- could improve on the energy efficiency of traditional turbines which they say are efficient for about 30 percent of the time.

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