A fresh-air look at innovation

I’m running short on titles, but today’s one is pretty apt.

We’ve been building bicycles for years using metal frames. It’s effective, but not particularly efficient. And now, a group of British engineers has demonstrated making a modern mountain bike out of a non traditional material: bamboo.

It’s nothing new of course – like most things it has been done before in some fashion, but today I’m more interested in the mentality.

In fact, bicycle frames made of bamboo were demonstrated back in 1894, but it’s amazing how we’ve spent decades refining metal, refining the processes and so on, only to come back to trying out bamboo as if it’s essentially a new idea.

It’s little surprise that we do turn to such things, though, given the current political and social position; we’re increasingly told that climate change is happening and that our environment is ever more vulnerable – so that anything we do which demands less of our fixed resources (like metals, ores) and more of sustainable resources (growable, like bamboo) must really be worth considering. Especially as bamboo has a higher yield of oxygen than other tree types, which means growing it is also environmentally sound.

Consider it: why should manmade materials be the sole province of strength or durability? Mother Nature was developing these materials long before mankind came around…

Perhaps we should be looking into more materials like this instead of automatically turning to the conventions of steel and plastic; there are almost certainly naturally-occurring materials that have some or all of the properties needed in manufacturing – like bamboo.

More interestingly, we could spend more time studying these materials and understanding what makes them so strong. I’ve long heard that spider-silk is incredibly rugged for its weight/thickness, and that if it were thicker it would be as strong as steel. What makes it so strong for its weight? Can the same technique be applied on a much bigger scale – can we produce a material that is as light (and thus using as few actual materials as possible) for its strength but more suited to the tasks we would have for it?

I have little doubt there’s such research going on across the world – but there’s an important point to be made here: what we normally use may be an acceptable tool for the job, but with a little research, a better alternative may be out there.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to A fresh-air look at innovation

  1. Adonis says:

    The problem with organic materials is that they usually decompose as well. In some circumstances, that’s actually a good thing too.

    Which isn’t to say that metal doesn’t rust and plastic is invincible either. It just means that you’d have to engineer the bamboo bike to make it easier to replace frame as needed. That, or treat them with horrible chemicals to retard decomposition.

  2. Arantor says:

    That’s also true, but at the same time, we’ve naturally moved towards a disposable culture, where people do discard things and refresh them far more frequently than would have been done a couple of decades (or generations) ago.

    Consequently, the whole notion of natural material construction is actually more appealing, for exactly the reason you mention – by making it easier and cleaner to actually dispose of a given item.

  3. Adonis says:

    *waits for bamboo iStuff* :P

  4. Arantor says:

    No, they’re very attached to their plastic, glass and metal. Unless it could be demonstrated that some bamboo weave provided a ‘better user experience’, I can’t really see Apple using bamboo :P

Comments are closed.