Biomimicry accelerates the kinds of breakthroughs we need to halve carbon emissions over the next decade. But getting those breakthroughs all the way from concept to commercialization is a difficult journey. That’s why, with the help of the Ray C. Anderson Foundation, the Biomimicry Institute created the Biomimicry Launchpad, an accelerator that supports biomimicry entrepreneurs as they take early-stage, nature-inspired solutions to market, deploying the solutions we need right now.
This year, in addition to inviting the Biomimicry Global Design Challenge winners to join the 2018-2019 Launchpad cohort, we also issued an open call for early-stage start-ups to apply directly to the Launchpad. A total of 13 teams entered the first stage of the Launchpad, where they worked on technology and market validation. Over the next five months, the seven remaining teams will focus on developing a strong proof of concept and improving their go-to-market readiness.
This year’s Launchpad will culminate in June 2019, when the Launchpad teams will gather in Minneapolis for GreenBiz’s inaugural Circularity conference. At the conference, which focuses on the circular economy as a transformational business strategy, the Institute will award the $100,000 Ray of Hope Prize® (sponsored by the Ray C. Anderson Foundation), as well as a $25,000 second prize, to two of the Launchpad teams.
From an eco-friendly sewage treatment approach, to a carnivorous plant-inspired mosquito control device, a gecko-inspired leak detector, and more, these teams’ innovations are tackling environmental and social problems in creative – and regenerative – ways.
MEET THE LAUNCHPAD TEAMS
Aruga Technologies | Pittsburgh, PA, USA
Luka Pocivavsek, Joseph Pugar, Antonio Torres
Aruga is a nature-inspired surface design platform that uses reversible surface topography (i.e. wrinkles) to renew and self-clean. Currently being used as a vascular implant technology, Aruga’s graft surfaces mimic how human arteries use dynamic wrinkling patterns to physically keep platelets from binding to the artery surface as blood flows through the vessel. The technology is inspired by how some natural surfaces, such as arteries, dolphin skin, and mussel byssuses use dynamic surface wrinkles to renew. From water filtration and purification to petrochemical processing and bio-reactors, Aruga surfaces can add an element of sustainability that current solutions, such as complex chemical coatings and time intensive and expensive cleaning protocols, do not provide.
EcoSTP | Bangalore, India
Simar Kohli, Tharun Kumar, Dr. E. Muralidharan
The EcoStp team created an eco-friendly approach to sewage treatment, inspired by the four chambers of a cow’s stomach. This low-maintenance technology produces energy instead of consuming it, compared to conventional STPs which use energy-hogging motors, exhaust fans, pumps and blowers. This design doesn’t use chemicals to treat the sewage, but instead uses microorganisms, plants, and gravel to treat wastewater. With 93% of sewage untreated in India, the team is developing an economical and ecological solution that treats up to 1 million liters of sewage a day without needing to be connected to a power grid.
Gen-Rail | Long Beach, CA, USA
Ryan Genena, Chris Sagui, Matt White, Benjamin Dadacay, Roman Wiant
Genrail is designed to harness wind generated on urban freeways and convert it into energy, essentially creating a wind farm in an urban environment. This system was developed with Los Angeles in mind but is adaptable to all high-speed roadways. The team replicated the compressible elasticity of the cockroach to create safe impact zones, mimicked the California condor’s wing shape to help create energy harnessing fans, and gathered inspiration from the structure of the desert snail shell to create a system of vacuums aided by the venturi effect propelling the wind forward and providing extra power for the city. Genrail is designed to have a small footprint, be highly efficient, and be easy to produce and implement in cities worldwide.
Habari | Utrecht, The Netherlands
Georgios Agkavanakis, Franco Grosso Giordano, Janin Herkrath, Yurhan Kwee, Emma Luitjens, Rushi Sanjeev Mehta
Habari is an automated, open-source design to protect tea plants from frost damage. Climate change has resulted in more unpredictable night frosts in Kenya, which damages tea plantations and leads to economic losses and unstable incomes for farmers. Inspired by the giant groundsel (Dendrosenecio kilimanjari) and giant lobelia (Lobelia deckenii) plants, both native to Kenya, the team developed Habari to automatically deploy a mesh where frost deposits, covering the plants and preventing the frost from settling on the leaves. Habari increases farmers’ resilience to weather conditions, and connects the farms with the local community by using local and sustainable products.
Phalanx Insulation | Long Beach, CA, USA
Eric Askeland, Tim Enslow, Albert Gonzalez, Oscar Guerra, Jesus Mateo
Phalanx Insulation is a biomimicry-inspired insulation grid meant to be applied to exterior walls of existing buildings. Intended to be used in urban coastal regions like Southern California, this system is designed to reduce interior temperatures of buildings passively without the need for electricity. The system includes three layers. The shade-grid layer has a wavy patterns and reflective surface inspired by the cactus and Saharan silver ant. The air channel layer, inspired by cathedral termites, directs hot air up and out of the system. The capillary layer was inspired by the Saharan camel and wheat, and can collect the morning dew from the air or pull up gray water from an underlying trough. Phalanx requires no electricity, has no moving parts, can be assembled on existing architecture, makes use of otherwise wasted water, and ultimately saves money while it cools.
UPOD | Ithaca, NY, USA
Anna Gannett, Joey Sun, Paulina Villacreces
The UPOD is a mosquito-control device inspired by the mechanism of the carnivorous Utricularia vulgaris plant. Higher average temperatures and increased precipitation events due to climate change are contributing to the expanding threat of mosquito-borne diseases like dengue, malaria, and chikungunya. Current mosquito-control strategies can be harmful to people and the environment, so this team developed the UPOD to be an environmentally friendly, self-sustaining, reusable and affordable solution. Similar to how the Utricularia vulgaris plant traps prey, the UPod is a solar-powered device that pulls water and larvae into a tightly-sealed water chamber by means of a trap door that functions through a smart sensor mechanism. Larvae are suffocated in the water chamber, and then pumped out as new water and larvae are pulled in. UPOD can help individuals, communities and nations take control of larvae populations and prevent the spread of mosquito-borne diseases.
Watchtower Robotics | Boston, MA, USA
You Wu, Tyler Mantel
WatchTower Robotics Co. aims to help public and private water pipeline operators around the world save water and protect infrastructure. Specifically, WatchTower develops robots, automated tools, and data analytics that will empower pipeline operators to map their pipes, detect leaks actively and early, assess pipe conditions, and make informed maintenance decisions. Every day, about 20% of the clean water produced in the world is lost due to pipe leaks. Due to limitations in available technologies, most of the leaks are either not found, or found too late. The strategy is to build a robot that is like a squid or gecko; it leaves behind a piece at every leak it find in an underground water pipe. This piece has a beacon effect that allows maintenance crews to locate it with wireless scanners from above ground, pinpoint the location of the leaks, and know where to dig and fix them.
Want to get support to bring your bio-inspired idea to life?
We invite you to apply to join our 2019-2020 Biomimicry Launchpad cohort. You can learn more and apply at innovation.biomimicry.org/launchpad. Apply by April 7, 2019 for an opportunity to bring your biomimicry innovation to the next level.