Friday, October 23, 2009

Are racing cars arthropods?

If a zoologist were forced to classify racing cars in biological terms, he might well be inclined to conclude that they match the body plan of those animals called arthropods. This so-called 'phylum' of the animal kingdom includes the insects and the crustaceans.

Arthropods are defined by the fact that they possess the following characteristics: an external skeleton ('exoskeleton'), which protects the more vulnerable organs within; bilateral mirror symmetry; a segmented body plan; and jointed attachments called appendages, which provide functions such as locomotion.
In racing cars, the monocoque, whether it is a modern carbonfibre shell, or a metal space-frame construction, plays the role of an exoskeleton, protecting the vulnerable parts within; most racing cars possess bilateral symmetry, with minor exceptions such as asymmetric radiator layouts, and the suspension 'stagger' used by Indycars on oval circuits; most racing cars have a segmented body plan, front-to-rear, with various bulkheads separating the modules; and the suspension and wheels on a racing car play the role of the appendages on an arthropod.

Arthropods, like all animals, possess a metabolism, in the sense that they burn a source of chemical potential energy, which has ultimately been created by photosynthesis in plants, in order to perform useful work. In so doing, they create waste heat, which has to be radiated to the environment. Similarly, a racing car equipped with an internal combustion engine, burns a source of chemical potential energy, which has ultimately been created by photosynthesis in plants, in order to perform useful work, and in so doing creates waste heat, which has to be radiated to the environment.

The analogy would be complete if the 'active-ride' technology, seen in Formula 1 in the late 1980s and early 1990s, had been permitted to develop to the point where racing cars became fully autonomous. The feedback loops involving sensors, computer control units, and actuators, would ultimately have allowed racing cars to drive around circuits on their own. As it is, racing cars play host to parasitic organisms belonging to the phylum of the chordates. These parasitic organisms provide the sensing, decision-making, and control inputs in a racing car. Such individual chordates possess various names, but are mostly called Mika.

1 comment:

NickCaulfieldUK said...

Then we'd have to find a better name for them than "jointed leg"