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Shark skin inspires Sharp and Nikon design for energy-saving A/C

Japan-based partners explore biomimicry for high-performance appliances

A shark swims behind a glass window at the Sydney Aquarium. The animal's skin is being emulated in the design of energy-saving fans for air conditioners.   © Reuters

OSAKA -- Japan-based manufacturers Sharp and Nikon have partnered to develop home appliances with features that take a page from the biological world, starting with an energy-efficient air conditioner inspired by shark skin.

The tie-up announced Tuesday combines Sharp's appliance expertise with Nikon's microfabrication techniques, including the use of a laser on resin or metal surfaces. The companies aim to explore biomimicry, creating components with new features such as antifouling or water-repellency. They look to commercialize the technology by fiscal 2023.

Sharp was inspired by the shape and movement of a butterfly's wings when it designed the blades of this fan released in April.

Nikon and Sharp are first working on the outdoor unit of an air conditioner, seeking to develop a fan that has a surface similar to shark skin with denticles, or tiny scales, to reduce drag and electricity consumption. Work on the unit began in 2020, and the partners plan to create other appliances in the future.

Sharp has used biomimetics, the emulation of nature to solve problems, to enhance the performance of industrial products since 2008. It has developed parts for about a dozen categories of products, including a pedestal fan inspired by the shape of butterfly wings.

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