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Biomimicry: turning birds into bullet trains

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 09, 2017

Nature has amassed 3.8 billion years of R&D on how to engineer and design things and systems. So when designers are looking at how to solve problems, they should pay closer attention to how the evolutionary process dealt with similar situations. For example, an engineer working on a redesign of the Japanese bullet train used his birdwatching knowledge to borrow design elements from birds like a kingfisher, an owl, and a penguin.

Japan’s Shinkansen doesn’t look like your typical train. With its long and pointed nose, it can reach top speeds up to 150-200 miles per hour.

It didn’t always look like this. Earlier models were rounder and louder, often suffering from the phenomenon of “tunnel boom,” where deafening compressed air would rush out of a tunnel after a train rushed in. But a moment of inspiration from engineer and birdwatcher Eiji Nakatsu led the system to be redesigned based on the aerodynamics of three species of birds.

I love the idea of the Shinkansen as a chimerical creature constructed from the bodies of three very different types of birds. (via the kid should see this)