Biologically inspired design is the process of using biological systems as analogues to develop innovative solutions for engineering problems. This paper describes an effective and successful implementation of problem-driven biologically inspired design in a real-world problem. In support of the Department of Energy SunShot Initiative, a national collaborative effort to make solar energy cost-competitive with other forms of electricity by the end of the decade, solar panel designs were carried out by engineering and architectural design teams. Solar Photovoltaic (PV) systems were developed using analogical design, and more specifically, bio-inspired design. Some systems were also designed using non-biological analogues. Functional decompositions were employed as the first step in the design process, as a way to identify the key functions essential to the system’s reliability and cost effectiveness. Six key functions were identified. Analysis of the final designs by the teams showed that the solar panel system designs using biologically inspired analogues were more effective in meeting the six key functions identified during functional decomposition. Employing a combination of divergent and convergent design thinking is also discussed as a way for effective biologically inspired design. The top three designs selected for prototyping were biologically inspired and exceeded the project goal of reducing the installation and labor costs of solar PV systems by 50%.

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