Posted by Ken Spivey
The Smithsonian Channel’s three part documentary, “NatureTech” explores the “striking parallels between nature and technology.” The episodes of “NatureTech” work with the assumption that scientists have ignored nature for the past century, and their narrow focus has limited their growth. Contemporary researchers who bear this in mind are making unexpected leaps in their respective fields. These advances include tires that have the adhesive ability of frog feet, air conditioning technology based upon an in-depth study of termite colonies, and robots that mimic the sensory reactivity of cockroaches. This method of solving problems by observing nature is called “biomimetics.” Ironically, this key term is never defined in the documentary; rather, the viewer must use “context clues” to clarify this important and often repeated buzz word.
The visuals in “NatureTech” alone are worth watching at least a single episode of the three part documentary. The opening sequence is a visual delight. The time honored documentary tradition of relying upon stop-motion photography to make the boring more tolerable is used sparingly, and instead exciting CGI models and real life demonstrations help support the biomimetic argument.
The narrator of the documentary was one of the greatest pitfalls of the entire project. I am unsure how the producers came to the decision of hiring a narrator who sounds like he should be a voice double for a Ninja Turtle or the spokesperson for an energy drink. Perhaps this was an attempt to attract a younger audience, or to make some of the more dull moments in the film seem more exciting. Either way, I found his voice and cadence distracting.
“NatureTech” was interesting, but hardly what I would call educational. The basic biomimetic lesson is learned within the first twenty minutes. The subsequent two hours are spent showing really fun and cool innovations which are more akin to mind candy than edification. In addition, the filmmakers repeatedly bring up biomimetics as a way to help the environment. We are given the impression that since nature is an inherent “good,” we must assume that technology based upon nature will follow suit. Perhaps a fourth episode would be needed to explain this further.