Gabe Pyle | Biomimetic Design | July 2015
Biospire Insect Catcher
- The Biospire Insect Catcher is a bug catcher for kids that allows kids to take part in observing and participating nature without encouraging them to disrupt it.
- It will help them capture, study, and release bugs safely and in a way that doesn’t harm the insects.
- It may or may not have electrical components. It should have a magnifying component so that kids can see the insects up close and personal.
- It should come in a kit with accessories for different kinds of bugs or different kinds of situations.
- The accessories should not be floating but should nest or attach to the main body of the insect catcher.
- The insect catcher should be rugged enough to use and be left outside. It should be easy to clean, and all components that could possibly contain an insect should be completely see-through so that supervising adults can be sure that the catcher is empty before storing it away.
The company name and business
The purpose of the design, what the design is intended to do
- Help inspire future entomologists
- Allow kids to study insects closely
- Get kids outside
- Keep kids (and insects) safe as they study insects
The aim or goals of the design (e.g. generate sales, modify behavior)
- Allow kids to play with bugs in a way that doesn’t teach children to harm the environment
- Inspire the future leaders of entomology
- Enable curious minds to study insects
- Create an insect catcher that is good for the consumers and good for the planet
- Keep kids safe
- Keep bugs safe
The target consumer, user, or audience for the design
- Ages 8-12, boy or girl
- Their parents
Any values or messages you want the design to communicate
- Insects are crazy cool!
- They were here first, and they’ll be here after we’re gone. Study them, enjoy them, but respect them and their homes.
- Sometimes insects are cool to look at, but sometimes it’s better not to touch them
- Anyone can study insects
The context or operating conditions within which your design will function
- The design will need to be sturdy enough to survive the treatment of a 8-year old, and leaving it outside all night or all day.
- It will also need to be able to contain live insects in a way that keeps the insects alive, but prevents them from escaping.
Examples of existing similar designs
Timeframe for completion
- 5 weeks
Any constraints or non-negotiables
- Captures insects non-violently with low-to-no energy
- Can’t break easily
- Can’t kill the insects
- Can’t let insects escape on their own
- Leaving the toy outside can’t compromise the design.
- Doesn’t need to be waterproof, but getting it wet shouldn’t break it
- Easy to clean out
Identify: What do we want it to do? We want it to suck up insects.
Translate: How does nature capture small organisms? (Function #1)
Strategies available (3 strategies for function #1):
The Bladderwort: the bladderwort is a tiny underwater carnivorous plant that uses a vacuum action to suck its prey into its special leaves. The chamber-like leaves of the bladderwort are equipped with a special gland the pumps water out of the chamber, creating negative pressure inside. The door to the chamber is rigged with sensitive bristles. If a small creature disturbs these bristles, it misaligns the door, creating an opening through which water may rush into the chamber, equalizing the pressure, and sweeping the prey into the chamber with it. The bladderwort then excretes digestive enzymes to break down the prey.
Marsh pitcher: The marsh pitcher captures its prey passively. The leaves of the marsh pitcher curl to form a pitcher, which collects rainwater, with a small, nectar-producing hood above. The insects, inspecting the plant for more nectar, travel down into the plant pitcher where long, slippery hairs prevent the insect from climbing back up. As the insect slides down, it reaches a point in the plant pitcher where there are no hairs. Instead, the plant wall is slick and waxy. The insect can no longer climb out. It falls into the water where it drowns. Bacterial decay dissolves the insect into the water, and the pitcher absorbs the nutrients.
Blue whales: The blue whale, like many large whales, eats only tiny sea creatures called krill. The whale’s mouth is equipped with baleen, sheets of horn, feathered at the end, that create a filter in the mouth of the whale. The whale sucks in a mouthful of water, bringing the krill in with it. The whale then pushes its tongue forward to expel the water and trap the krill in the baleen.
Strategy selected: Bladderwort
Abstract: Depress/deflate a spherical, semi-rigid air sac to forcefully expel air. The spherical walls of the air sac, once depressed, invert on themselves, leaving the air-sac in a state of tension, as the walls will want to re-invert on themselves to resume the original structure. The touch-sensitive membrane blocks the end of the product’s tube, preventing air flow back into the air chamber. Touching an insect with the end of the product tube will dislodge the membrane, breaking the seal, and inducing the sudden intake of air.
Evaluate: This first cycle resulted in only a slight adherence to Nature’s Principles. While it does not fully meet any one of nature’s principles, it does perform functions with minimal materials and energy by using the power of air pressure to capture the insects. Additionally, this air pressure equalization operates on a feedback loop by “inhaling” only as much air as would allow the air sac to regain its original form, and it responds to the feedback of an insect brushing up against the touch-sensitive membrane on the mouth of the chamber.
Identify: What do we want it to do? We want it to capture living organisms in a different way (for variety and redundancy.)
Translate: How ELSE does nature capture small organisms?
The Marsh Pitcher: The marsh pitcher captures its prey passively. The leaves of the marsh pitcher curl to form a pitcher, which collects rainwater, with a small, nectar-producing hood above. The insects, inspecting the plant for more nectar, travel down into the plant pitcher where long, slippery hairs prevent the insect from climbing back up. As the insect slides down, it reaches a point in the plant pitcher where there are no hairs. Instead, the plant wall is slick and waxy. The insect can no longer climb out. It falls into the water where it drowns. Bacterial decay dissolves the insect into the water, and the pitcher absorbs the nutrients.
Ant lion sand pit: The ant lion digs a hole in lose sand and launches any excess sand out, leaving a crater that is just steep enough that any wandering ant will fall in with the tumbling sand.
Blue whale baleen plates: The blue whale, like many large whales, eats only tiny sea creatures called krill. The whale’s mouth is equipped with baleen, sheets of horn, feathered at the end, that create a filter in the mouth of the whale. The whale sucks in a mouthful of water, bringing the krill in with it. The whale then pushes its tongue forward to expel the water and trap the krill in the baleen.
Strategy selected: Slippery edges of the Marsh Pitcher Plant
Abstract: Vertical chamber rigged with scented lure. Insects investigate lure. Climb further into vertical chamber. Further down the chamber, interior walls covered with slick wax that prevents climbing back up. Insect slides down into removable jar for inspection.
Evaluate: This second iteration of the insect catcher helps enforce the reusability of the product, but the biggest change this addition makes is that the product functions are now redundant.
Identify: What do we want it to do? We want it to stay clean.
Translate: How does nature repel dirt? How does nature clean itself? (Function #2)
Strategies available (3 strategies for function #2):
Gecko: The skin of the gecko is covered with tiny microstructures called spinules that collect water into larger droplets. The energy of the water being collected propels the drops of water off the gecko, keeping the gecko clean.
Lotus Leaf: The surface of the lotus leaf is covered in microstructures that cause the water to collect in beads as opposed to sticking to the surface of the leaf
Springtail: The skin of the springtail has three layers of protection. First, the skin is covered in tiny bristles that create a layer of air around the skin. Second, the skin is covered in tiny bumps that prevent water from collecting. Finally, each bump has a microscopic overhang that prevents fluids from progressing.
Strategy selected: Springtail
Abstract: Surface covered in three-tiered defense system. First level, tiny bristles create air pockets that deflect larger particles, like water. Second level, geometric bumps prevent any contaminants from collecting. Finally, each bump has a small overhang, which prevents any fluids from progressing further
Identify: What do we want it to do? We want it to stay clean.
Translate: How else does nature stay clean?
Plant cuticles: Many blooming plants have a waxy layer of “skin” that protects the plant from losing moisture as well as from microbial infections.
Gecko skin: The skin of the gecko is covered with tiny microstructures called spinules that collect water into larger droplets. The energy of the water being collected propels the drops of water off the gecko, keeping the gecko clean.
Blue Morpho Butterfly: The wings of the Blue Morpho Butterfly are covered in scales with tiny ridges that prevent water from sticking. As water collects in beads, the natural adhesion of the water picks up any loose dirt particles. Once the butterfly tilts their wings, the water rolls off, bringing the dirt with it.
Strategy Selected: Gecko skin
Abstract: Surface covered in tiny spires that prevent water from collecting. Water collects into little beads, which then easily roll off the surface, or “bounce” off the surface due to the energy of the water collecting.
Evaluate: The fourth iteration of this design is really starting to capture more of nature’s principles. This most recent addition helps to keep the product clean in more than one way. The difference could be between materials (for instance, the harder shell material could utilize one style of self-cleaning structure, where as the softer air sac material could use another)
Identify: What do we want it to do? We want it to utilize local materials
Translate: How does nature leverage local materials? (Function #3)
Strategies Available (Strategies for function #3)
Hermit Crab: The Hermit Crab makes his home in a small shell. As the crab grows, it must move to a larger shell, meaning that the crab constantly upgrades from one discarded shell to another
Bird nests: Many birds construct their nest from the resources immediately available to them—anything from old newspapers to cassette tape to human hair
Hornet nests: Hornets chew up wood pulp and mix with their saliva to create a paper that they use to create the walls of their nests
Strategy Selected: Hermit Crab “moving in” to new, larger shells
Abstract: Use what’s available. Allow for various kinds of jars to be used for capturing insects.
Evaluate: This fifth iteration really drives home the life’s principle focused on being locally attuned and responsive by allowing the product to use any kind of jar that the child might be able to find (and old peanut butter jar, or an old mason jar). This way, the jars can be reused, and they are already part of an existing recycling stream.
With that, I present the latest iteration of the Biospire Insect Catcher. Unlike many other insect catchers, the Biospire Insect Catcher doesn’t use a motorized fan to suck the insect up into the device. Instead, the Biospire Insect Catcher uses the rigidity of a depressed spherical air sac to rapidly draw air into the device, capturing the insect in the process. This enables the user to capture the insects with little-to-no energy, and the process can be repeated without replacing batteries or electrical components.
Additionally, the Biospire Insect Catcher can be set up on end and used as an insect trap. Place a single drop of honey in the Insect Catcher’s scent chamber, and the smell will attract insects into the vertical throat of the product. As they climb down, the insects will be unable to stick to the slick walls, and they will slide down into jar where they can be removed and investigated.
As for product flexibility, the Biospire Insect Catcher comes with three jars for catching insects, but it also comes with a size-adjusting mouth, meaning that jars of just about any size can be used to capture and study insects. Finally, the surfaces of the Biospire Insect Catcher have been designed for self-cleaning using the microstructure strategies of the Springtail and Gecko, so dirt and grime should slide right off with a quick rinse.
The Biospire Insect Catcher is about half-way to being able to emulate each of Life’s Principles. Right now it is locally attuned and responsive in the way that it allows the option of using local materials (jars) and responds to feedback (in refilling the air sac as well as in triggering the touch sensitive membrane). It also optimizes rather than maximizes in that the processes take minimal energy, it integrates multiple functions, and it can use recyclable materials. It can also integrate cyclical processes in its reusability as well as it’s ability to utilize jars of any kind again and again. However, it needs further development before it can completely emulate the remaining principles.
The Biospire Insect Catcher is the first step towards fostering a sustainable entomological spark in today’s children. With its powerless insect catching and its chemical-free cleaning and jar reusing abilities, the Biospire Insect Catcher provides a dynamic, exciting, and sustainable alternative to other insect catchers on the market today.
The basic functions of the product have been explored. However, based on the progress of the project so far as well as the evaluation against Life’s Principles, suggested next steps include investigating environmentally-friendly, locally available, and recyclable materials for manufacturing the product, including a downloadable field e-guide based on user location, and extending the product line to include other means for users to capture insects (nets, traps, etc). Additionally, the product could be designed so that users could upgrade or repair individual components of the product (larger, quicker, or newer air sac, or a mounting system for larger or more jars). This would provide the user with additional value and extended product life.
Should Biospire choose to continue pursuing this project, the proposed timeline would be as follows:
- 1-2 weeks: investigate and determine product materials, focusing on life-friendly materials as well as cleanability and structural integrity
- 2 weeks: draft concepts for extended product line
- 1 week: revise Biospire Insect Catcher for modularity and upgradability
- >4 weeks: create downloadable field guide (possibly an app) for users to identify insects