Use of flying microchips the size of a sand grain could be used for population surveillance
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It is neither a bird or a plane. Instead, it's a winged microchip that can be carried by wind to monitor airborne diseases and pollution.
These tiny microfliers were created by Northwestern University engineers and published in Nature's article this week. They are being called the smallest human-made flying structures.
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Tiny flyers that collect information about their surroundings
Although the devices do not have a motor but instead engineers were inspired by the free-falling propeller seeds of the maple tree, also known as the samara fruits. John A. Rogers, who was responsible for the design of the devices, said that they optimized the aerodynamics of microfliers to create a stable, slow-falling velocity because of the interaction between air and the wings.
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The Northwestern professor of materials science, engineering and biomedical engineering said that this allows the structures to interact with the ambient wind for longer periods. This enhances the dispersal process.
The tiny microchips would be scattered by the wind, which could detect their surroundings and gather information. Scientists believe they could be used to monitor for contamination or surveil populations, or even track disease.
Microfliers are expected to be part of large distributed collections of wireless electronic devices that are miniaturized and small in size, according to their creators. They could also look like a swarm.
The unique size and engineering of these microfliers makes them stand out, but we did report on similar "microdrones", back in March. This concept was also used in the dystopian science fiction series Black Mirror.
"We believe we can beat nature,"
The engineers had to slow down their microfliers' descent to allow them to collect more data. Yonggang Huang, a team member, developed a computer model to determine the optimal design for microfliers that would fall slowly but disperse evenly.
Huang stated, "This is impossible using trial-and-error experiments."
For the creation of these tiny devices, the team also took inspiration from pop-up books designed for children.
According to Northwestern's news release, engineers created a base first and then attached it to a "slightly stretchy rubber substrate." The substrate expands into a three-dimensional shape when it is relaxed.
Rogers stated, "We believe that we beat nature." "At the very least, we've been able to create structures with more stable trajectories than other seeds and at slower terminal speeds than those of plants or trees."