Engineers at Northwestern University have created the world’s smallest flying structures, measuring less than 1mm and equal to the size of an ant’s head. These flying microchips are shaped like tiny propellers so they can easily catch the wind and be dispersed over long distances. Well I wouldn’t want to swallow one by accident…
The Northwestern team got the idea for the shape from the seeds of maple trees that are shaped like tiny propellers which enables them to move with the wind and be dispersed over greater distances. The result was a microflier made up of electronic components clustered in the center of three wings, all assembled on a rubber substrate. The electronics give the propeller a low center of gravity, allowing it to catch the wind.
John Rogers, lead author of the study explained the design and said, “Our goal was to add winged flight to small-scale electronic systems, with the idea that these capabilities would allow us to distribute highly functional, miniaturized electronic devices to sense the environment for contamination monitoring, population surveillance or disease tracking.” The team added sensors, memory, antenna and a power source onto the microflier to enable it to perform different jobs from contamination monitoring to detecting pH balance in water or calculating the sun exposure.
The microfliers can be used by dropping them from planes and buildings to disperse over a wide area. And after they have performed their duties, they can easily break down in the environment thanks to the materials used to build them which makes them eco-friendly as well. “We fabricate such physically transient electronics systems using degradable polymers, compostable conductors and dissolvable integrated circuit chips that naturally vanish into environmentally benign end products when exposed to water,” says Rogers. “We recognize that recovery of large collections of microfliers might be difficult. To address this concern, these environmentally resorbable versions dissolve naturally and harmlessly.”
The research was published in the journal Nature