A flash of feline inspiration
One winter’s evening in 1933, Percy Shaw was driving home from the pub.
In the early days of motoring, driving in the dark was hazardous.
The roads were unlit, and vehicle headlights were poor.
To make matters worse for Shaw, the visibility that night was terrible due to thick fog.
As he rounded a bend, he caught sight of the reflection of the eyes of a cat and instinctively turned the steering wheel a little sharper to make the corner.
He quickly realised that had he not seen the yellow dots, he might have driven off the road and had an accident.
Until this event, he had been using the polished steel strips of the local tram lines to navigate at night.
But they had recently been removed.
Inspired to find a viable alternative, Shaw combined a reflective lens set within a collapsible rubber dome that would allow it to deform under the wheels of passing traffic.
Placing his device at spaced intervals along a road would enable motorists to drive more safely at night.
In 1935, he began manufacturing his new invention, and the blackouts of World War II and the covered car headlights at the time quickly demonstrated its value.
The use of Shaw’s ‘Cat’s Eye’ spread worldwide after the war, and in 2006, it was voted one of Britain’s top 10 design icons alongside the Concorde, the Routemaster double-decker bus, and the Supermarine Spitfire.
It remains one of the most commercially successful examples of biomimicry today.