This series is brought to you in partnership with Purina ONE®. These stories highlight how pets have provided creative inspiration in technology, education, business, and beyond. Read more about how pets—and the people who love them—can brighten lives and strengthen our communities at the GOOD Pets hub.
What if you could create better design by studying how nature solves problems? Through the science of biomimicry, researchers have been doing just that. Looking to nature to inspire innovative solutions to human problems, scientists have found fascinating ways to rethink the man-made world, sometimes just based on how an animal’s eyes or legs move. These five ideas below demonstrate how the presence of dogs and cats have helped designers and scientists make significant breakthroughs and contributions to society.
In 1941, Swiss engineer Georges de Mestral noticed a burdock burr had naturally caught onto his dog’s coat while they were walking in the Alps. In 1955, Mestral patented a synthetic version of the tiny seed whose hundreds of hooks had stuck onto microscopic loops in the fur. The innovation of Velcro became a sensation in the 1960s, when NASA’s astronauts used it to keep objects from floating away in spaceships. Now, Velcro is an everyday problem solver used in blood pressure gauges, athletic equipment, clothing, garden ties, as well as wall- and car- mounts for GPS equipment. And it’s not just used for practicalities. You can even have fun with it by jumping onto a Velcro wall.
Push pins have been around since the 1900s, helping innovators and writers post ideas to thought boards, but there’s always that risk of poking yourself with the sharp end. Designer Toshi Fukaya’s biomimetic design of a newer, sleeker, and safer thumbtack was inspired by the way a cat exposes and withdraws its claws. Covered by a pill-shaped silicone sheath, the pin is not exposed until it’s pressed onto a hard surface like a corkboard or wall. Fukaya’s pin won a 2011 Red Dot Design Concept Award, giving cats a claw up in the world of biomimicry.
When animals lose limbs, they find new ways to walk. When Martin Grob noticed that his brother’s three-legged dog moved faster than some four-legged dogs he observed, he was inspired to include three-legged dogs in the LocoMorph Project, which aims to study the movement of animals and humans in order to help build more efficient and mobile robots. By putting the dogs on a treadmill and capturing their movements with 10 high-speed infrared cameras, his team saw that if a dog lacked a fore limb, it had more difficulty moving than a dog that lacked a hind limb. In fact, if a dog lacked a hind limb, its fore limbs continued to function normally because of the distribution of its body weight. This ongoing study will potentially allow scientists to create robots that could voluntarily adapt their movements to unexpected situations or difficult environments, like the surface of Mars.
Bedbug Detectors: Inspired by a Dog’s Nose
Because dogs have a keen sense of smell, exterminators often train them to detect bedbugs, which give off high levels of carbon dioxide and very specific pheromones with specific odors. Although termite inspector Bill Moyer has filed a patent on a bedbug detector that can detect carbon dioxide levels, it was mainly designed for pest control companies. Now innovators are attempting to make more affordable options that can be used by homeowners, inspired by the dog’s nose. In the meantime, you can hire bedbug detecting services that use dogs, like Bed Bug Dog Roscoe.
With ever-increasing traffic, road reflectors do a good job of keeping us safe on the road, and we can thank cats for that. In the 1930s, inventive Yorkshire repairman Percy Shaw had gotten on his motorcycle on a foggy night after spending the day asphalting a street. Unable to see the road well, he had almost plummeted over the edge of a twisting road, but the reflection of his headlight in a cat’s eyes stopped him. In 1935, Shaw developed the “Catseye” reflecting roadstud and founded Reflecting Roadstuds Ltd. However, his invention wasn’t widely adopted in the United Kingdom until a blackout during World War II, about 10 years later. Now, Shaw’s invention has been modified and used on roads across the world.