How can the observation of nature help us solve scientific, economic and social challenges? The French entrepreneur, Idriss J. Aberkane, discusses biomimetics as the next intellectual revolution.

Let’s start with an analogy: if the history of our planet Earth was compressed into 1 year, humans would appear in the last 15 minutes of it. Out of those 15 minutes, most recent industrial progress would occur within 1 minute, as illustrated by American science writer, Janine M. Benyus. Although the rapid rate of industrialization has helped to prolong life and overcome diseases, it has also brought pollution and environmental destruction that could in turn limit human survival.

Potential solutions may lie in biomimetics, a term popularized by Benyus that broadly means to use nature as a model. But concretely, what is meant by the name? What are some examples of it in action? And finally, what is the future of biomimetics?

To help us answer these questions, we approached expert Idriss J. Aberkane: French entrepreneur (Scanderia and Eirin International), speaker (TEDx talks), published author (Economy of knowledge, 2015, geopolitics of knowledge 2015, Libérez Votre Cerveau 2016), research engineer and holder of three Ph.Ds. Here’s what he had to say!

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Figure 1. Dr. Idriss J. Aberkane

How is biomimetics defined?

Biomimetics is the art of considering nature not as a source of raw materials but as a source of knowledge”. To illustrate this point, he explained that “for centuries, economists have believed that you cannot have growth that is not material, but Silicon Valley has proved the opposite.”

For him, “this is a direct application of the knowledge economy that tells us that knowledge is infinite: when it is shared, it is still retained by the owner, and it grows exponentially. Thus, if we consider nature not as a source of raw materials that are finite but as a source of knowledge, it is possible to reconcile infinite growth and preservation of the environment.”

He concluded, “nature is a library that we have to read rather than burn as fuel, because nature is more a source of knowledge than a source of resources.”

This vision seems to have crossed the centuries, as evidenced by the following quotes from famous thinkers:

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Figure 2.

After all, nature has more than 3.8 billion years of research and development and established its own durability strategies, which could be summarized as follow:

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Figure 3.

What are the different subfields of biomimetics?

“Biomimetics started from the simple imitation of natural organisms and has evolved over time to incorporate ideas from architecture to medicine.” We’ve reviewed key developments in this figure:

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Figure 4.

More specifically, could you give us some examples?

“Found in everyday life and often used without our knowledge, biomimetics has produced excellent results in terms of productivity and function. Nowadays, there are plenty of different examples.” Here are some of them:

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Figure 5.

What is the state of biomimetics in Europe? How can it improve?

“Biomimetics is gaining popularity as the technology of the future, with increased funding and collaborations. Indeed, various players in the market are collaborating with scientists to explore novel technologies. In Europe, Germany and UK are the most advanced: they share collectively more than 50% of the Europe medical biomimetics market.”

Nevertheless, “why don’t we exploit nature as we would an oil slick?” he asked us.

“This is because the markets are less predictable than oil. When oil is found, everyone knows how to make money with it. That is why we favor the oil rather than the Pacific cone toxin (neurotoxin). Besides volume, of course, the difference between the $50 per barrel of oil and the 800 million per kg of Pacific cone toxin is mental comfort, predictability. It also takes more time to assimilate and share the knowledge from nature. But what if the knowledge was the new oil, as Steve Jobs prophesied in 1984?”

“In South Korea, there was an autonomous Ministry of Knowledge Economy, independent of the Ministry of Strategy and Finance. Today, the country is a leader in the export of knowledge, technology and innovations: it amounts to 100 billion each year (LCD screens, tablets and cars for example), 20% more than Russia even though it has only a third of the population and 171% fewer territories.” He added that “when the Koreans want to make robotics a great national cause, they not only create new curricula but an amusement park: Robot Land.”

Thus, he declared that “today, we need to develop refineries of knowledge! We need to develop pipelines, and maybe video games will fulfill that function.”

And finally, what is the future of biomimetics?

Aberkane closed by showing us Nature by Alphonse Mucha, a sculpture of Mother Nature on view in Brussels. For him, “it reflects the beauty of nature, but what this gold statue does not say is that she is also intelligent: she is the only one to have an MBA, a Master of Brilliant Adaptation as well as a Nobel Prize in Medicine, Physics, and Economics.”

More generally, he explained that “today, in 2016, we have all the conditions to bring about The Renaissance 2.0.”

Indeed, “let’s go back 500 years and we’ll enter the French Renaissance. This revolution was the result of the combination of the rediscovery of printing, the discovery of the Americas and of the medical discoveries, which have their equivalents today: the internet, the discovery of the place of our galaxy in the universe and discoveries related to the brain.”

For him, the Revolution 2.0 will be driven by the three following elements:

  • The knowledge economy,
  • Biomimetics, which it is its application to the environment,
  • And the blue economy, which is the economy of knowledge applied to the company.

Nevertheless, he mentioned that “like women’s right to vote or the idea that the earth revolves around the sun, any revolution goes through three stages: first it’s considered ridiculous, then dangerous, and finally self-evident. This concept applies to every domain but it’s especially useful for business.”

He concluded that “by adapting biomimicry, it is observed that the Renaissance 2.0 questions our identity: human beings are auto-baptized homo sapiens sapiens, wise man two times. But during the last years, we have been Homo sapiens materialensis, only considering nature as a source of raw materials. Thus, the knowledge economy asks a question: are we Homo sapiens materialensis or Homo sapiens sapiensis?”

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Figure 6.

So Biomimetics could be the next Intellectual Revolution!

Our discussion with Idriss J. Aberkane brought home the point that by building technology using biomimetics, we could hope for a more stable and productive future, with more biodegradable and compatible with nature products.

It seems that our creativity for new materials and innovation is limited by our ability to understand the great idea bank of nature. Thus, advancements in biomimetics seem to hold the key to more cooperative evolution and technical development. Such a symbiotic relationship has an important role in the cohabitation of humans with nature, and the extent of its application seems to be limitless.

Want to know more? Watch this video of Idriss J. Aberkane, which had 4.5 million views in only eight days (a must see!).


Feature image by Jean Pierre Boeye (Access Diffusion), provided by Idriss J. Aberkane
Figure 1 by Sébastien Melot, provided by Idriss J. Aberkane
Figures 2 & 3 by the author
Figure 4 Leonardo da Vinci: Diagram of a proposed flying machine (1789) (CC2.0, Special Collections Toronto Public Library’s Photostream/Flickr), Turtle Ship (CC2.0, Seongbin Im/Flickr), Matthew Baker Bionique, Meadow with Barbed Wire Fence (CC2.0, Eric Sonstroem/Flickr), Otto-von-Lilienthal-Denkmal (CC2.0, Thomas Siems/Flickr), Burdock Hooks (CC2.0, pawpaw67/Flickr), Biology (CC2.0, Kate Brady/Flickr), Dictionary (CC2.0, Caleb Roenigk/Flickr), Nature Reading (CC2.0, Steve Jurvetson/Flickr)
Figure 5 Blauet 05 – martin pescador – kingfischer – alcedo atthis (CC2.0, Ferran Pestana/Flickr), TGV (CC2.0, Frederic Dinh/Flickr), Humpback whale – Megatera novaeangliae (CC2.0, Gregory “Slobirdr” Smith/Flickr), Turbine (CC2.0, James Russell/Flickr), Femur p1 Left (CC2.0, Jenna Nevins/Flickr), Eiffer Turm / Eiffel tower Paris (CC2.0, Christoph Sammer/Flickr), Lotus Pond NCMA Raleigh NC 1215 (CC2.0, bobistraveling/Flickr), Rainy Night (CC2.0, Jan Tik/Flickr), Jellyfish (CC2.0, SeeBee2189/Flickr), Single base pair regulatory evolution in sticklebacks (CC2.0, eLife – the journal/Flickr), Mantis Shrimp macro – Odontodactylus scyllarus (CC2.0, prilfish/Flickr), IMG_0770 (CC2.0, Ben Freedman/Flickr), Worm macro (CC2.0, Groman123/Flickr), Internal Organs of the Human Body from the Household Physician, 1905 (CC2.0, William Creswell/Flickr), Internal Organs of the Human Body from the Household Physician, 1905 (CC2.0, William Creswell/Flickr), Frozen enzymes (CC2.0, Joi Ito/Flickr), Sustainability poster- Circular economy (CC2.0, Kevin Dooley/Flickr), Sustainability poster- Circular economy (CC2.0, Kevin Dooley/Flickr), Station d’épuration (AVERMES,FR03) (CC2.0, jean-louis Zimmermann/Flickr, img_3379.jpg (CC2.0solylunafamilia/Flickr), Shoal of Baitfish (CC2.0, William Warby/Flickr), 
Figure 6 Human work evolution silhouettes (CC2.0, Vector Open Stock/Flickr)

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