Car accidents kill more than one million people and injure approximately 50 million each year. Yet, millions of fish can swim together in a school with virtually no collisions. How do fish do it, and what can they teach us about how to reduce car crashes?
Consider: Schooling fish learn about their surroundings through their eyes and a special sense organ called the lateral line. They use these senses to perceive the location of other fish around them, and they then react as follows:
- Traveling side by side. They match the speed of the fish beside them and maintain their distance from them.
- Approaching. They draw nearer to fish that are farther away.
- Collision avoidance. They change direction to avoid contact with other fish.
Based on those three behaviors of schooling fish, a Japanese car manufacturer designed several tiny robot cars that can travel in a group without colliding. Instead of eyes, the robots use communication technologies; instead of a lateral line, they use a laser range finder. The company believes that this technology will help them to create “collision-free” cars and “contribute to an environmentally friendly and traffic-jam-free driving environment.”
“We recreated the behavior of a school of fish [by] making full use of cutting-edge electronic technologies,” says Toshiyuki Andou, the principal engineer of the robot-car project. “We, in a motorized world, have a lot to learn from the behavior of a school of fish.”
What do you think? Did fish schooling come about as the result of a mindless process? Or was it designed?