Blood Flow As a Model for Autonomous Transportation

Nature has a way of recreating biologic events in surprising ways, such as the coin-like stacking of red cells and the linear linking of autonomous cars moving through arterial highways. Red cells are round and similarly shaped and can connect to one another by
protein links in a stack of discs, called “rouleaux”.  Greys RBCs 2

Autonomous vehicles might similarly connect in platoons to increase roadway capacity and transportation efficiency. Good-bye the 2 second safety spacing rule between non-autonomous cars!  Instead, autonomous cars, linked bumper to bumper, will move as one, like stacked blood cells. When the light turns green, the line of connected cars will move through the intersection together. Just as red cells may collect in rouleaux or disconnect to move individually, the autonomous car can join or leave a sequence of platoons according to destination.

The study of blood can lend other lessons to future transportation planning, such as laminar and turbulent flow, cellular diversity, rheology, and pathology. Understanding these factors may spur novel approaches to vehicle and roadway design and anticipate imperfection and disease. Driving through highway construction traffic, I learned of Ford’s plan to mass produce autonomous cars in five years. Sounds like a bloody good idea to me!

Reference: The above image is from Henry Gray’s Anatomy of the Human Body (1918) via Wikipedia Commons. Panel “a” shows red blood cells en face. The cell has a discoid or bi-concave form that maximizes its surface area, which may be more important for laminar flow than diffusion of oxygen.  Laminar flow is orderly flow in parallel layers, rather than the disorganized motion of particles moving in different directions and velocities seen in turbulent flow. If most cars on the road adopted the same size and shape, speed, and direction, more efficient laminar-like flow would be expected. Autonomous vehicles in rouleaux formation might take the turbulent steam out of road rage and other erratic driving styles. Panel “b” shows red cells stacked in rouleaux formation, which can be visualized on ultrasound or echo images of the heart and blood vessels as smoke