What we can learn from Eagles
When it comes to innovation, there can be no better learning ground than nature. In this post, we will look at the ‘innovations’ in eagles and how we can apply to new products.
Normal grip strength in humans is between 20 and 50kg; a bald eagle’s grip is believed to be about 10 times stronger. The power of an eagle's grip comes from its leg muscles, tendons and bones. The tendons are contained in tendon sheaths, and both the tendons and tendon sheaths have tiny ridges. These create a "ratchet" effect, enabling the eagle to maintain tremendous pressure on the talons without continuous muscle action. As a result, an eagle can lift weights that exceed its own body weight and clamp down on large prey over a longer period.
Many products use ratchets to for continuous motion in one direction, avoiding slip back, and allowing greater force to be applied.
All eagles are renowned for their excellent eyesight – it’s not for nothing that we have the phrase ‘eagle-eyed’. They can see a rabbit from 3 miles away and fish from several hundred feet above the water. Their retinas are more densely coated with light-detecting cells than human retinas; this allows them to see finer details much like a higher density of pixels. In addition, an eagle’s eyes are to the sides of the head and angled to allow them a 340-degree visual field compared to our 180 degrees. On top of sharp focus and peripheral vision, eagles, like all birds, have superior colour vision: they see colours as more vivid than we do, and can also see ultraviolet light. This lets them track and find small rodents from their urine trails!
Many innovations have sought to enhance our vision with varying degrees of success – think telescopes, night vision goggles and Google Glass. Colour enhancement is an underutilised feature in innovation. In can be used, for example in mistake-proofing to prevent unintended use or in packaging alerts that change colour when the food starts to spoil.
An eagle’s wings are an amazing example of superior engineering. They are used to soar effortlessly and spiral up thermals to gain height with minimum effort. And they are also used to rise off the ground or from surface of water, sometimes with heavy prey in their talons. For soaring, eagles’ wings need to be long and narrow. For take-off, they need to be broad and shorter to generate lift. This is the classic example of an engineering physical contradiction, something that needs to be two things. The solution is look at separation in condition - to be broad under certain conditions (for take-off) and narrow and long under other conditions (for soaring). To achieve this, the eagle makes use of the feathers on the wingtip and the alula, the structure at the juncture of the arm wing and the hand wing. These splay out for added lift or when braking is required.
The morphing of the birds’ wings to adapt to flight conditions and manoeuvres has inspired many designs for example, turbines, drones, airplane wings.
Biomimicry, or nature-inspired solutions is a fantastic source for innovation. And eagles are a perfect example of how nature can teach us so much.