A Stage to Show or a Ring for Battle? A Survival Story of BGDC Taiwan Competition

by Julia Chiang | Originally published on the Biomimicry Blog, Biomimicry In Design, Biomimicry Global Design Challenge

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The Biomimicry Global Design Challenge (BGDC) Taiwan Competition is a stage for young people to showcase their sustainable ideas inspired by nature and a potential way to start their future career or to solve real-world problems… but this is only one side of the story. The BGDC Taiwan Competition is a battle ring for the young people (and even the organizer) to challenge harmful patterns of the existing industrial society. Cheers to those who have registered for the competition, either voluntarily or reluctantly (yes, some of them are school homework). No matter what the results are, those who presented their work for the public review have marked a milestone in their lives, and Biomimicry Taiwan is privileged to play a part of it.

Evolve To Survive and Integrate Development With Growth

It was the end of year 2014 when Biomimicry Taiwan was established. Our mission is to promote the biomimicry concept and its potential to become a pathway to a sustainable Taiwan. For a nonprofit organization to survive, building a network is important, especially when biomimetic design is a science-based, interdisciplinary practice. To connect with university campuses, we started to hold the BGDC Taiwan Competition in 2015, aligning the BGDC theme of the year, food systems, and encouraging local students to apply biomimicry design thinking when working on their solutions.

When we realized that the concept of biomimicry is not widely known, or at times is ambiguously interpreted, the Biomimicry Café was born. The Biomimicry Café begins at the conclusion of the Taiwan Competition and invites local finalist teams and professors from various disciplines to join together and improve the teams’ collective work. Over the years, through the local competition and Biomimicry Café, the teams, professors, and we as the organizer have gained experience and deep understanding toward biomimicry, but there still remains a divergence in perceptions of how biomimetic design can be defined and judged. We’ve learned that open discussions with open minds has been key to reaching consensus when heading toward the same goal.

More and more university professors and students are aware of the BGDC local competition and turn the challenge into action by forming teams to join. For six years, the Taiwan competition has attracted nearly 180 teams and more than 650 students. We began with only the financial support of our members and sponsorship from the Biotechnology Industry Study Center of Taiwan Institute of Economic Research, followed by the New Taipei City Government and the Ministry of Science and Technology, who allocated resources to encourage innovation on sustainable technology.

As stated in Life’s Principles, nature replicates strategies that work, integrates the unexpected, reshuffles information, builds from the bottom-up, and combines modular and nested components (experiences). The BGDC Taiwan Competition and Biomimicry Café have illustrated these strategies nature has applied for 3.8 billion years.

Be Locally Attuned And Responsive

“Global vision, local action” is one of the goals of the BGDC Taiwan Competition. Taiwan is a country with only 23 million people, but we face the same challenges other countries do, such as food safety, air pollution, land and marine waste, and climate change. In recent years, the problems of microbeads and particulate matter 2.5(PM2.5), have become important environmental issues, requiring central and local governments to take action. When we connect local challenges to the competition, we’re able to initiate collaboration with the government.

With the support of New Taipei City Government and the Ministry of Science and Technology, the finalists of the 2020 BGDC Taiwan Competition proposed solutions to a range of challenges; including marine wastes, discarded fishing nets, air and noise pollution from transportation, and improving the energy and water efficiency of green walls. This collaboration between the Biomimicry Institute and Biomimicry Taiwan offers both educational opportunities and a path for government support and advances.

This year in Taiwan, we had more interdisciplinary teams than ever, and the diversity is reflected in the innovations. Take marine waste as an example, Team Samara2 created a device to collect marine waste vertically; Team Trashark tried to integrate their design with ships to collect and sort marine waste, and turn it into energy; Team Neterminator created a device to facilitate retrieving discarded fishing nets by divers; Team Taccable Fishing Net designed a traceable rope that can be woven into existing fishing nets in order to prevent them from being discarded on purpose. The diversity also enhanced teams’ abilities for in-depth research. Take the examples of Team RICOCHET and Team Butterfly Inspired Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV). One is a sustainable PM2.5 filter to mitigate the impact of transportation, and the other is a UAV to support pollination to help secure food systems. Both teams presented their work with solid scientific and engineering research.

For some of the finalists, the solutions they have designed are the realization of their interest and curiosities about biomimicry, giving them the possibility to solve a local challenge, and a chance to redesign the existing world. The results are important, but the process seems to impact the finalists more. Most of them shared how hard they have worked to identify the questions, to look for and correctly interpret biological strategies, to create and revise the ideas over and over again, not to mention the conflicts among team members. One of the finalists from Team A Sensitive Wall mentioned that it is always fascinating for an architect to solve problems for both humans and the environment, and biomimicry provides the opportunity. “A Sensitive Wall” designed an interactive Green Noise Barrier to reduce urban noise.“Global vision, local action”, by connecting ourselves to local needs, we learn how to cultivate cooperative relationships with local people; and by interviewing stakeholders, teams learn to use feedback loops to understand the context of the problems and to improve their designs.

Biomimicry Taiwan has worked with the Biomimicry Institute for several years; and in 2019, both organizations officially partnered for the Biomimicry Global Design Challenge. The partnership demonstrates the importance of the competition to both organizations and it highlights the recognition of the Taiwan Competition, which builds credit when reaching out to the stakeholders. In 2020, we are thrilled to know that two teams from Taiwan were selected as finalists of the BGDC, and both are also finalists in the Taiwan Competition. As a pioneering species committed to spreading the biomimicry meme in Taiwan, we’re happy to show ourselves on the global stage. To what extent will this species grow? That will be another chapter. Nature doesn’t rush, but everything gets done.

Julia C.C. Chiang is the Secretary General of Biomimicry Taiwan and a Certified Biomimicry Specialist with a master’s degree in Media and Communication Management. She has helped to plan several outreach programs to expand the biomimicry network in Taiwan, including local design competition, biomimicry workshops and forums. Before joining Biomimicry Taiwan, Julia worked in an agro-biotech company, public relations, sustainability, corporate social responsibility, and as TV program producer.

The Biomimicry Institute empowers people to create nature-inspired solutions for a healthy planet. www.biomimicry.org

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