Scientists ‘beat nature’ building world’s smallest ever flying machine

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Engineers have created the smallest flying man-made structure ever: a tiny, moving microchip.

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The ‘microfliers’ developed by Northwestern University researchers are roughly the size of a grain of sand and require no motor or engine.

Instead, the chip — which can carry sensors, power sources, antennas for wireless communications, and store data — catches flight in the air similar to propeller seeds from maple trees, spinning through the air toward the ground. Is.


When the chip is dropped from a height, it falls at a slow, controlled velocity, making it ideal for monitoring air pollution and airborne diseases.

Northwestern’s John said, “Our goal was to add winged flight to small-scale electronic systems, with the idea that these capabilities allow us to understand the environment for pollution monitoring, population monitoring or disease tracking as highly functional, will allow the distribution of small electronic devices.” A Rogers, who led the development of the device.

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“We were able to do this using ideas inspired by the biological world. Over the course of billions of years, nature has designed seeds with very sophisticated aerodynamics. We borrowed those design concepts, adapted them and put them on an electronic circuit platform.” implemented.”

Rogers’ team studied the aerodynamic properties of seeds of several plants, taking inspiration from tristeletia vine, which has star-shaped seeds, and has been used in laboratory conditions with various designs. The first designs of the small craft were made in two-dimensions, bonded onto a slightly protruding rubber substrate.

When the substrate was relaxed, a controlled buckling process caused the wings to ‘pop’ in a defined three-dimensional form. This meant that engineers could build semiconductor devices in the traditional way, which could then be ‘popped up’ like a children’s book.

“We think we beat nature,” Rogers said. “At least in the narrow sense that we are able to build structures that fall with more stable trajectories and slower terminal velocities than similar seeds that you would see from plants or trees.

“We were able to build these helicopter flight structures at a size much smaller than those found in nature”.

The researchers suggest that many devices for monitoring the environment could be dropped from planes or buildings after a chemical spill or by creating wireless networks in other environmentally hazardous areas.

While this can cause environmental problems, the lab is developing transient electronics that dissolve in water when they are no longer needed using degradable polymers, compostable conductors and a soluble integrated circuit chip.

The study, ‘Three-dimensional electronic microflyer inspired by wind-dispersing seeds’, is published in Nature.


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