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2019 marks the 500th anniversary of the death of Leonardo da Vinci. Da Vinci–a timeless genius and polymath–is regularly cited as the first person to develop theories about biomimicry. Biomimicry means studying nature, taking inspiration from living systems, and attempting to replicate all or part of them for purposes of innovation. ESME Sudria and the ISG joined forces to focus on the topic of biomimicry during a day-long event including lectures and workshops, on Wednesday, November 13. The event title: Biomimicry Day: Responsible Innovation.
Working professionals, people curious about the topic, and university students gathered at 60 Boulevard de la Liberté to network, learn about the natural world, and uncover new and promising solutions. “In light of today’s climate challenges, ESME Sudria has positioned itself as a school that can innovate in ways that respect biodiversity and are cost-efficient–these are real challenges that will be omnipresent in the business environment in the future,” says Johan Verstraete, director of the Lille campus. “Throughout our history, ESME Sudria has always sought to train cutting-edge engineers. For that reason, we want our future graduates to understand these new challenges. Biomimicry Day is part of this effort to deepen our students’ knowledge, so that later on, they can logically and easily look to the natural world when they’re designing new projects.” »
Our engineering students looking to deepen their knowledge were treated to the presence of two representatives from Ceebios, the European Centre of Excellence in Biomimicry at Senlis. Hugo Bachellier is the director of training and regional strategy, and Bertrand Monfort is the Ceebios representative for southern France. Hugo Bachellier took the opportunity to give an overview of Ceebios’ activity (“a biomimicry skills network in France, which seeks to support society’s transitions through innovative approaches inspired by the natural world”) along with the “Nature=Future” video series. He also emphasized the natural world’s potential; it can “create, store, and process data,” and the need to create more “low tech” projects–technologies that are useful, accessible, and durable.
“Every species is a book”
Hugo Bachellier told the group that biomimicry and bio-inspiration can give rise to complex systems that give simple results, or simple systems that solve complex problems–an example is permaculture. “I’m an engineer by training, and I became interested in biomimicry after a lecture by the American scientist Janine Benyus, who’s known for having formalized the concept. That motivated me to found an association–now known as Chrysalide–at my university. Then I went to work for Ceebios. A day like the ISG/ESME Sudria Biomimicry Day is a fantastic initiative, because you feel that these schools really want to get involved in biomimicry. As a speaker, I wanted to offer a framework and not make the discussion too focused on technology, to show how biomimicry could allow everyone to reconnect to the challenges of the biosphere.”
Bertrand Monfort focused his talk on nature’s infinite richness, reminding the attendees that the nature-based engineering approach looks at three levels when solving problems: form (design), materials (process) and ecosystem (relationships). He also cited a number of examples of living things that are able to do things that are almost unbelievable, like “spiders spinning webs that are almost as strong as steel,” or “the Virginia creeper vine that has tentacles that can stick very tightly to walls,” or even “mussels that secrete a byssus, an extraordinary type of glue that works in water and in air.” Monfort, a true specialist, thinks it’s time to open our eyes and think differently about the future: “Every species is a book, and biodiversity is a library. But humans generally know very little about the richness of information in the natural world. That means we have to rethink everything!” »
“Nature means 3.8 billion years of R&D”
That’s the opinion of Alain Renaudin, president of the consulting firm NewCorp and founder of the Biomim’Explo, a major annual event focused on biomimicry. “We’re disconnected from the natural world, specifically because of increased urbanization, and we’ve lost a certain amount of good judgment. We’ve forgotten about nature’s resiliency, and its ability to teach us. Biomimicry is an invitation to re-learn things. And when we learn, we love it, and we’re amazed at the natural world all over again! We, homo sapiens, the newcomers to the planet, have to learn from the medusa, from the sharks, from plants…organisms that are much older than we are, and that have sometimes survived multiple mass extinctions. Nature means 3.8 billion years of R&D.. What’s new isn’t biomimicry, but the context. Biomimicry takes us from learning why we need to change, to learning how we need to change. People won’t save the planet, the planet will save people. So we have to reconsider the natural world, to help ourselves do better. This is a 180° change of perspective, and if that speeds up, it’s going to give us new tools to observe and imitate the natural world.” »
This concept of urgent action through a new way of returning to nature also appeared in a lecture given by Stephan Hoornaert, a biomimicry consultant at Morpho-Biomimicry. “The “sapiens” in “homo sapiens” means “wise, but are we really wise?” Hoornaert asked the audience this question, alerting them to the danger of our present situation. “We’ve set some new records. We’re at the beginning of the sixth massive extinction, 60-70% of insects have disappeared in a few years, and the landscape is changing; we’ll soon be at the point of no return. Are we going to just keep waiting?” »
Citing Leonardo da Vinci, “Learn your lessons in nature, that is where our future lies,” Stephan Hoornaert called for widespread and profound change in our way of thinking about the world. “We solve our problems through technology, and to do that, we’re going to primarily use energy and matter. Nature does things differently: she draws on information and structure.” In order for biomimicry to be a real solution, we need to never forget its three pillars: ethics, reconnection, and ethos. “Without ethics, this is just greenwashing. Connections are also essential: we’re animals that have been disconnected from nature and from what’s happening inside us. We have to change that and learn how to listen. Finally, we also have to stop hyper-specializing, segmenting, working in “castes” that are insensitive and unaware. We’ve forgotten how to collaborate. Engineers and biologists are wired differently, but they have to talk to each other, learn from each other, and exchange visions.” »
Businesses are already getting involved
Other speakers were representatives from businesses that have already committed to biomimicry, like Blue Lingua (bio-inspired radar), Decathlon (a towel inspired by the thorny devil lizard for shorter drying times, a basketball that repairs its own leaks by filling punctures with an internal gel), and Eel Energy. Since it was founded in 2012, Eel Energy has been developing an undulating-wave marine turbine that imitates the swimming motion of a fish, so that wave energy is captured in linear generators. “Our company is based in Boulogne-sur-Mer, so we focus as much as possible on contacts within our own region,” says CEO Franck Sylvain. “It seemed especially appealing to us to come meet with students. The students at this event asked many questions, and that was great, because it’s important to be curious. This curiosity motivates them to look at what’s being done elsewhere, to produce better designs yourself. In the end, that’s the essence of biomimicry.”
There were other professional experts in the workshop area, who presented their innovations or activities. One was Erik Guillemin, president of the startup AMS R&D that developed the undulating membrane technology known as Wavera, which can be adapted to all types of pumps. “Whenever we meet with engineering students, we like to show them our innovative technology and what it enables us to do. For us, this is a springboard into the future. In a certain way, we’re planting a seed: some of them will be struck by our technology and will remember it, and others will take inspiration from our approach and apply it to other areas. Something positive and interesting will always come out of it!” What could be better than inspiring a student, like Louis Trousson (ESME Sudria class of 2022), a member of Biomimtech, the school’s new student association–as its name would suggest, the group focuses entirely on biomimicry: “A day like today, with many speakers who we can see and talk to, allows us to absorb even more information about this approach. It allows us form new relationships and grow our association! “
No more boat propellers? That’s the challenge that Harold Guillemin, ESME Sudria class of 2014, decided to take on when he founded his startup, FinX! To get there, this promising young company is currently developing a new type of bio-inspired nautical propulsion system. Harold Guillemin is also the company’s CEO, and we recently talked to him about his career path, and his vision of the biomimicry sector, and about his future goals.
What has your career path been like, since you earned your engineering degree in 2014?
Harold Guillemin: After ESME Sudria, I went to work for AMS R&D, a startup that my father founded, to help them develop a new industrial pump technology called Wavera. It uses a membrane that undulates back and forth like a fish’s fin. The product launched in 2018. It draws 200 watts and is 100% electric, so it can move fluids, using up to 30% less energy. AMS R&D’s business model is to license this technology to pump manufacturers, to subcontract the manufacturing. After four years there, I had really mastered that technology and I wanted to leave the company so that I could adapt that technology to the nautical sector, and propel boats with something other than a propeller. How? By using a high-frequency, low-amplitude undulating membrane, so that you get a very efficient propulsion.
So it’s more than a motor?
Exactly. At FinX, we work on innovative nautical propulsion. For example you might use our technology for a boat motor, to propel a diver or a drone, or for a motorized surfboard. Our first product is 100% electric; it’s two kilowatts, the equivalent of five horsepower. This new propulsion technology can propel small launches and sailboats that weigh up to three tons. We’re in the development phase, and we’re supposed to test it on the Seine river within the next few weeks.
How did you get the idea to focus on the nautical sector?
I was always fascinated by this technology, so I kept thinking that it had to be possible to adapt it to something that affects the general public. Bit by bit, the nautical sector seemed obvious to me…maybe because I’m originally from Brittany, on France’s northwest coast. But OK, although I’m from Brittany, I’m more of an engineering and a technician than a sailor and an explorer!
Why did you choose the name FinX?
For the English word, “fin.” And I thought that the X gave it a modern and sporty feel. We wanted a short name that would be understandable worldwide, and specifically in the US market. You can pronounce it either the French way “Feen X” or the English way, “FinX.”
What appeals to you as an engineer about working on a biomimicry project?
It’s fascinating to take your inspiration from living things. When you open your mind to biomimicry, you’re dealing with unlimited creative potential, and you can find a lot of solutions to problems that are sometimes very technical. Typically at FinX, biomimicry allows us to solve problems related to hydrodynamics, or turbulent flows. But beyond the practical aspect, biomimicry also keeps us humble, because nature already has millions of years of R&D stored up! As an engineer, it would be ridiculous not to take inspiration from that. When we were developing our motor, we were constantly comparing ourselves to what was already out there, whether it was man-made or something in the natural world, so that we could find the best possible design. We always do better work when we take inspiration from the experience of others. Today, engineers can no longer stay locked up in a dark laboratory!
Working as an engineer in a company and starting your own company are two different worlds. How did that transition happen for you?
It happened in the first half of 2018, after I found out about a dual degree program, the Master’s in Entrepreneurship offered by ESSEC Business School and CentraleSupélec, a French engineering school. The program involves two days of coaching, and three days focused on launching a business. For me, this was a good way of learning new business skills so that I could dive right in. We learned about business management, legal issues, fundraising, etc. So I was there from September 2018 to June 2019. That allowed me to focus on the project and to open a lot of doors through the alumni network. That’s also true of the ESME Sudria alumni network.
Maritime freight alone generates 12% of the world’s transportation-related CO2 emissions. Was it important for you for FinX to change things from the environmental perspective?
Yes. Our goal–of course–is to bring an innovative technology to market, but we also want to include a strong environmental component. Our first, small-power product will allow us to focus on electrical development for the nautical sector. Right now, electricity is only a small part of the market, but it’s increasing dramatically from year to year, with stricter and stricter standards that businesses have to comply with. To produce a higher-powered product in the next few years, motors will probably have to transition to a hybrid or thermal model. If you really want to go out to sea, you need a robust system that’s not going to break down in the middle of the ocean. That’s what we’re aiming for: replacing the propeller with an undulating system, to increase efficiency and decrease energy use, as compared to current technologies.
How many people work with you on project development?
Right now we’re a team of five, but it’s not just us. We also receive expert help with various things, from hydraulic simulations to mechanical things. We also have an advisory board including people from the sector, like the former CEO of the Beneteau group, and the CEO of Energy Observer. In the upcoming weeks, we’re planning on announcing FinX’s partnership with a famous French seaman. His reputation and experience will help us out a lot, specifically when it comes to sailors who often love innovation…when it’s installed on someone else’s boat !
Are you planning on an initial fundraising round?
We’re in the process of completing it. We raised 300,000 euros from various angel investors. All of them are in the nautical sector or the nautical industry, or they’re passionate about high growth-potential disruptive technology. This funding round was also made possible by an ESME Sudria alum! In addition, Bpifrance is planning to help us out with approximately the same amount, and we’re also counting on some bank loans and grants.
When are you hoping to bring your first motors to market?
In fact, we’ve already started taking pre-orders for a small line of 5 HP motors for launches and sailboats. Those will be delivered in June 2020. The goal is to launch a higher-powered line in 2020 with a motor company or a market leader. We’re hoping to sell a 100 HP motor which would be electric (hybrid) to reach a larger market. The 100-250 HP pleasure boating market is a lot larger than the small power market. At that level, if you can save enough energy, it has a bigger impact and is more appealing. In the next four to five years, there’s no reason you couldn’t power a yacht with our technology.
Want to learn more about biomimicry? Find FinX at the next nautical trade show or participate in the Engineering Careers Discovery Day at ESME Sudria Paris on Saturday, December 14!
Winner of the Embedded Systems category in the ESME Speed competition, the LiFyre project is designed especially for firefighters, to help them improve their own working conditions. A team of fifth-year students (ESME Sudria class of 2019) designed this innovative and useful project–Mohamed Bourguiba, HasnaDoghri and Camille Gendreau. We recently talked to these students about their project.
What’s the concept behind LiFyre?
Camille: LiFyre is an electronic body monitoring system for firefighters. It’s a device that firefighters wear when they’re working at a fire. The device gathers multiple types of data about the firefighter and the environment.
What type of data?
Mohamed: LiFyre gathers data on the firefighter’s body temperature inside his or her protective suit, as well as the outside temperature. It detects explosive gases and monitors carbon monoxide levels, tracks the firefighter’s heart rate, and monitors the levels in the firefighter’s oxygen tank. All of this information is sent in real time via Bluetooth to the fire chief, using an app that can be installed on a tablet.
How did you come up with the idea for LiFyre?
Hasna: When the firefighters are out on a call right now, they have no way to communicate with their chief outside the building that’s on fire. So they have no way to talk to each other if there’s a problem! That reality gave us the idea for LiFyre, so that they could let their chief know if there was some sort of health issue or if someone fell, and they could also do a better analysis of the situation from outside the building.
What did you enjoy about working on this project?
Mohamed: The innovation!
Camille: Yes! No one had ever done a project like this in the past, and it’s also a project that affects all of us: the firefighters are here for us every day, and working on LiFyre gave us a chance to help them. It’s really a useful project!
Hasna: I agree. We didn’t just want to do a final project; we wanted to create something that had a real-world application that could help people.
Did you work together with any firefighters while you were developing the project?
Mohamed: Our project advisor, Philippe Debadier, is a volunteer firefighter alongside his work as the coordinator for the Embedded systems major at ESME Sudria. He was the one who suggested that we focus on this topic, and he had Camille and Hasna come on a tour of the firehouse in Argenteuil where he works.
Camille: We were able to see the fire trucks and their equipment, and we also got to test out their firefighting suits to see if they could wear our device or not. We were also able to talk to the firefighters and see if they would find this device useful or not.
What’s the current status of the project?
Hasna: We have a working prototype, and we’ve also started developing an app with a database where they can enter the fire chief’s name, and the names, ages, and training levels of the working firefighters. We’re also planning another interface that would allow the chief to send a specific firefighter to a specific location, so that they can closely track each person.
Will you continue with that?
Camille: That’s the plan, yes. Future fifth year students will keep working on the development, and we’re sure that they’ll take it to the manufacturing stage, while adding new functions, like the option to have voice communication between the chief and the firefighters.
What was your biggest challenge during the LiFyre project?
Hasna: For me, it was having to comply with very specific specifications. Specifically, we had to use components that were extremely heat-resistant, up to the temperatures that the firefighters might have to deal with in real life. We also had to put together a large amount of components in only five months.
Camille: Also, the components use different technologies. In a short amount of time, we had to learn these technologies, and none of us were familiar with them. Finally, LiFyre also allowed us to work on different things–hardware when we created the electronic card, and the software to run it. That meant that we had to work across a number of disciplines, but that’s what ESME Sudria taught us to do!
An ESME Sudria student project, to create a 3D model of the aortic arch
Thomas Brasey and Sylvain Rajkoumar–students in the ESME Sudria Emerging Technologiesmajor, class of 2019–worked on a final project to create a 3D model of the aortic arch. After many months of work, Thomas and Sylvain won a prize in the first annual ESME Speed competition, for this innovative project that will be very useful to healthcare professionals.
The name of your project is “3D modeling of the aortic arch, to assist with pre-operative planning in interventional neurology.” What does that mean?
Thomas: To put it simply, this project required us to create a 3D model of an artery–the aortic arch, which is located just above the heart–to help neuro-radiologists to better prepare their interventional neurology treatments for conditions such as strokes and aneurysms, or just to observe the blood vessels in the brain. During these medical treatments, the doctor has to insert a catheter–basically a small camera in a tube–into the patient’s femoral artery, through a small incision in their thigh, and then thread the tube through the artery into the veins that we’re looking at, in the brain. The only problem being that, along the way, there’s a more complex path to take when you go through the aortic arch. Using MRI images, the surgeon does calculations ahead of time, to define what that artery is like, so that they can choose the correct type of catheter and how to position it. That’s where we get involved: because the traditional method takes a lot of time and can sometimes be even more difficult in the emergency situations that surgeons might be working in, that can result in incorrect data. During the procedure, the patient is under general anesthesia and is being X-rayed so that the catheter can be located in real time. Precious time is being lost, and that’s even more critical in an emergency situation where the lost time can result in a worse outcome for the patient. So we get involved before the procedure starts, to help it go more successfully.
How did you get interested in this project?
Sylvain: Well, last year, our supervising professor Yasmina Chenoune had supervised a final project to track the path of a catheter, and that was the starting point for our work. At the start of our project, she sent us a set of MRI images that had been taken by the MRI machine. Our goal was to compile those images and extract the ones that interested us–the images of the aorta–and do all kinds of things to allow doctors to plan their procedures more effectively through this 3D modeling.
Thomas: We weren’t the only ones working on the project, because we worked with a startup, Basecamp Vascular, that was finalizing an active catheter project. Catheters are usually passive, meaning that you have to move them manually through the artery. The advantage of an active catheter is that you can use a joystick to move it. We also worked with the Rothschild Foundation Hospital, a hospital specializing in neurology and ophthalmology.
And how does this device work for doctors?
Thomas: The doctor simply has to position a few cursors, and set a segmentation threshold around the desired part of the artery, and then it takes 5-10 minutes to do the modeling. That’s if you do the procedure on a standard PC like the one we used. But if you use a more powerful computer, it could go even faster, taking only a few minutes. That’s a real time savings.
What did you like about working on this project?
Thomas: Being able to connect our area of expertise with something concrete, in the real world, something we are passionate about and that helps society: the medical field. It’s very gratifying to develop a working project that can help health professionals.
Sylvain: It also allowed us to meet doctors, specifically doctors at the Rothschild Foundation Hospital, to better understand what they might experience during these procedures–the stress and the time that might be involved.
And what was your biggest challenge?
Thomas: Planning! We started with pictures, and from that we had to try to envision a piece of software that would be easy for doctors to use. In the end, it’s like explaining this project to people who aren’t engineers or doctors. You have to adapt it to the end user.
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About ESME Sudria
Founded in 1905, ESME Sudria trains multidisciplinary engineers, important professionals in the sectors of the technologies of the future: energy, systems and environment; on-board systems and electronics; images, signals and networks, digital intelligence and data. Its modern teaching method is derived from three components: the importance of innovative spirit; the omnipresence of projects and initiative; and a resolutely international, human, and cultural outlook. Since its creation, more than 14,000 engineers have graduated from its courses. ESME Sudria delivers a Master of Engineering certified by the Engineering Education Commission (CTI) and recognized internationally as a Master of Science.