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Paper Digest: Application of Animal Forms in Auto Styling

Image credit: Photos by Clark, via Flickr (cropped).

Editor’s noteEvolution News is delighted to introduce an occasional series, “Paper Digest,” looking back at past publications in peer-reviewed journals of interest in the debate about intelligent design.

It may not be by chance that many cars are named for animals: Jaguar, Beetle, Impala, Mustang, Barracuda, Bronco, and Ram come to mind, among others. In April 2015, Stuart C. Burgess and Andrew M. King published a paper in The Design Journal on how animal forms are mimicked in automotive styling. They describe how design in nature may be used to inspire and produce aesthetically pleasing automotive designs.

The preeminence of design in nature and the utility of mimicking natural designs is a concept championed by the intelligent design community, recognizing that nature’s designs are optimized not merely by natural selection but by an engineering-like process where multiple variables are considered, and the best possible outcome given relevant constraints is achieved. 

Similarities Between Animals and Automobiles

Burgess and King discuss recognizable animal-like features in cars, such as a waist that mimics the human hourglass shape, facial features such as elliptical eyes, aggressive expressions, kind expressions, fish gills, and an expanded rear tail. They also expound on direct similarities between animals and automobiles, such as the fact that they both typically have four points of contact with the ground, consume fuel, and expel waste. The paper is sectioned into six headings: curves, symmetry, wholeness, distinctive facial features, and distinctive body profiles. Here’s a sample from the section on facial features:

There are strong parallels between the faces of animals and the front end of cars. In the same way that an animal has vision through the eyes, so a car driver has vision with the help of headlights. In the same way that animals have eyelids to cover their eyes, so some cars have deployable covers over the headlights. In the same way that an animal has ears to detect what is around, so a car has wing mirrors to enable the driver to see what is around.

Burgess and King also emphasize the impressive designs within the animal kingdom, discussing how some animal forms optimized for speed have curves that give them highly efficient aerodynamic profiles.

[I]t can be seen that the animal can minimize aerodynamic drag by having a low frontal area. This is achieved by having a low body profile and slender body. [I]t can also be seen that the animal can minimize aerodynamic drag by having a low drag coefficient. A low drag coefficient is produced by body shapes that enable air to pass smoothly around the body with the minimum of change of direction in the flow lines. Therefore, shapes with low drag coefficients tend be smoothly rounded. From Figure 1 it can be seen that a cheetah has both a low body profile and highly rounded shape that is aerodynamically efficient.

The Role of Symmetry 

They also discuss the functional role of symmetry in animal designs and how exceptions to a rule of symmetry often have specific engineering optimization function.

Animals contain a great deal of symmetry in their body and limbs because it helps them maintain balance in locomotion. This symmetry produces an elegant layout. It is important to note that there are some exceptions to the symmetry rule in nature, although these exceptions actually help to prove the rule. For example, many owls have asymmetrically placed ears for the purpose of increasing the sensitivity of hearing. The fact that asymmetry can be produced where necessary shows that symmetry is not an inevitable by-product of animal growth but a deliberately specified feature. The high level of symmetry in creatures shows that symmetry is important for balance and sensing.

Throughout their paper, they emphasize the incredible design and engineering behind animal features.

Animals are acknowledged to be supremely efficient. For example, in the case of the airfoil shape on aircraft wings, there is virtually no difference between the shape of a trout and the shape of a classical airfoil shape.

Function and Design

They state that many of the reasons for the similarity between animal and automotive designs come down to the convergence of design variables due to similar functions.

[T]he use of animal forms is inherently compatible with functional requirements because of the high level of optimization of natural forms.

Burgess and King close the paper with a discussion of the advantages of using animal forms in automotive design. This is an important concept for those hoping to use engineering principles to understand biology. To judge a design, whether in the context of a car or an animal, one first needs to grasp the relevant engineering requirements, which include functional requirements, constraints, performance requirements, interface requirements, and environmental requirements. Only by understanding these can we assess how well designed something is.