Engineers Bring Processes of Nature to Design
As featured on The New York Times
By PHIL PATTON
Biomimetic is a popular term among designers and engineers. Imitating nature’s shapes promises more efficient as well as more elegant buildings and vehicles. Now get ready to hear “morphogenesis.” Not content with adopting the forms of nature, engineers are looking to adapt the processes of nature to design.
Morphogenesis, from the Greek words morphê, for shape and genesis, for creation, refers to imitating evolution in developing designs. Algorithms that mimic the processes of evolution can produce lighter, stronger parts, say engineers like Jeff Brennan of Altair Engineering, a software and consulting company.
Mr. Brennan was in New York for a conference recently and stopped by to explain his work. Morphogenetic software, he said, has been applied to many areas, including architecture and aviation. The software helped Boeing cut about 20 percent of the weight of the new generation airliner, the 787 Dreamliner, he said. Now Altair is looking to morphogenesis to reduce weight in automobiles, a process the company presents as a way to meet tough new corporate average fuel economy rules. Rather than radically new power plants, like hybrids, or wholesale substitution of materials, like carbon fiber for steel, smarter software can cut weight, Altair said.
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