Whether you’re ready or not, the flying chips are here. But, unlike motorized drones, these planes are light enough to be carried by the winds.
This technology, developed by engineers at Northwestern University in the United States, was inspired by maple seeds for their project, which resulted in a tiny aircraft that can be carried by the wind before taking off and landing without problems thanks to its design. similar to a helicopter. The university calls this device a “microflier.”
“By studying maples and other types of wind-dispersed seeds, the engineers optimized the aerodynamics of the microflier to ensure that, when released at high altitudes, it falls at a low speed and in a controlled manner. Explains Northwestern University. “This behavior stabilizes its flight, ensures its dispersion over a wide area and increases the interaction time with the air, which makes it ideal for monitoring air pollution and airborne diseases. “
Capture environmental data
The small size of these electronic devices makes them suitable for many tasks, from environmental monitoring and surveillance to disease management.
In a paper published in the journal Nature, the researchers explain how “they examined passive structures designed for controlled non-motorized flight in natural or urban environments.”
Passive flight modules can be equipped with sensors, power supplies, antennas for wireless communication, and built-in memory. “Our goal was to add wing flight to small-scale electronic systems, with the idea that these capabilities would allow us to distribute highly functional miniaturized electronic devices to detect the environment as part of pollution control, population surveillance or disease monitoring ”. says John Rogers, an electronics engineer who led the development of the device.
He borrowed the aerodynamic design of seeds and applied it to electronic circuits, building on earlier work on how lightweight tree seeds, such as dandelion seeds, are carried by the wind.
Computer modeling of seeds
Maple seeds have wings similar to those of butterflies. They fall with a propelling action that uses the wind to create a soft landing. “These biological structures are designed to fall in a slow and controlled way, so that they can interact with the wind regimes for as long as possible. This characteristic maximizes lateral distribution through purely passive and aerial mechanisms ”, he describes.
The group used computer models of various seeds to create a model that mimics the softest seeds that fall.
“Device miniaturization represents the dominant development trajectory in the electronics industry, where sensors, radios, batteries and other components can be built in ever smaller dimensions,” continues John Rogers.
The team envisions that a large number of devices could be dropped from an airplane or building and dispersed on a large scale to monitor environmental remediation efforts, after a chemical spill, or to track air pollution levels at different altitudes.
“Most surveillance technologies use massive instruments designed to collect data locally, at a small number of places within a spatial area of interest,” says John Rogers.
“We visualize a great multiplicity of miniaturized sensors that can be distributed with high spatial density over large areas, to form a wireless network. “