nature knows best

Jun 10, 2009 | Tech News

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AskNature is an open source project dedicated to sharing information on how nature elegantly solves problems.

Imagine 3.8 billion years of design brilliance available for free, at the moment of creation, to any sustainability innovator in the world.

Imagine nature’s most elegant ideas organized by design and engineering function, so you can enter “filter salt from water” and see how mangroves, penguins, and shorebirds desalinate without fossil fuels.

Now imagine you can meet the people who have studied these organisms, and together you can create the next great bio-inspired solution.

The Search prompt asks the simple question ‘How would nature…’ leaving the user to pose questions that might be relevant to their field like:

‘How would nature…store information’ –

‘How would nature…solve conflicts’ –

The Featured Pages, provide some really interesting starting points for exploration and if you’re interested in learning more about biomimicry you might want to check out this great talk by Janine Benyus, ’12 sustainable design ideas from nature’.



I’ve enjoyed looking at insects and animals for inspiration in software design for many years. When I first joined Microsoft I decided to rig up about 8 ant farms together around my office with tubing interconnecting them around the circumference. Late nights of coding would be interspersed with sugar water feeding sessions and watching the latest burrowing endeavors. It used to bring in a good audience and there was only one ‘great escape’ incident….clearly planned by the hive mind for months.

The point was as I thought about memory management, garbage clean up, functions and data models I had a real world inspiration in front of me. A microcosm that would allow me to think a little differently about problems or inspire me to try something new. Their synchronized efforts working in unison to achieve their goal of sustaining the colony (unfortunately somewhat futile as there was no queen).

Too often in our societies we’re forced into narrowly defined roles in order to reach perceived success. You’re a programmer or a lawyer, builder, nurse, teacher. The opportunity to think outside of the box or work with experts in other disciplines on the same problem is the exception as opposed to the rule. But sometimes when it happens it leads to incredibly fruitful results. A combination of know-how and a different perspective brought to bear on a new problem. The rise of the web and the fluidity of our conversations and interconnectedness have made these kind of interactions more common but sites like AskNature are really providing a great service by providing a focussed way for people from multiple disciplines to contribute and learn about design based upon the greatest teacher of all…the natural world.

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