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This Microflier is the “smallest human-made flying” structure




The researchers of Northwestern University have developed the tiniest human-made flying device in the shape of a winged microchip.

The innovative flying microchip is equivalent to the size of a mote of dust and lacks a battery or engine. It uses air to fly.

Uses of the Microflier

Being the smallest flying structure ever, these microfliers may be equipped with “ultra-miniaturized technology,” such as detectors, energy systems, microphones for wireless networking, and inbuilt storage to retain data.

Developers refined the microflier’s mechanisms by analyzing maple tree seeds and other varieties of seeds that disperse in the air to determine that it lands at a slow and regulated speed when released from a higher elevation. This defining feature stabilizes its movement, guarantees dispersion over a large region, and extends the duration it spends in the wind, which is suitable for checking air quality and airborne diseases.

John A. Rogers of Northwestern University 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,.”

Taking inspiration from wind-dispersed seed

The spinning seed of a maple leaf has been seen by numerous people whirling in the wind and gradually falling on the ground. This is one of the examples of how the environment has devised ingenious, complicated techniques to help plants survive.

Rogers states, “Evolution was likely the driving force for the sophisticated aerodynamic properties exhibited by many classes of seeds.”

The Northwestern research department investigated the aerodynamics of a wide range of plant seeds to create microfliers. However, the tristellateia plant, a flowering creeper with star-shaped seeds, provided the most major inspiration. Tristellateia seeds feature wind-catching bladed wings that cause them to land in a gentle, revolving spin.

Computational modelling- reason of success

Roger said, “We think that we beat nature.”

The engineering group developed a wide variety of microfliers, one with three wings that were tailored to imitate the form of tristellateia seed wings. Yonggang Huang conducted comprehensive computational modelling about how wind passes around the machine to mirror the tristellateia seed’s regulated spin in order to find the ideal shape of the winged microchip.

Huang chose computational modelling over a trial and error approach as, “The computational modeling allows a rapid design optimization of the fly structures that yields the smallest terminal velocity,” he explained.

Remarkable efficiency

For the experiment, the research team equipped the microflier with detectors, energy resources, data storage, and an antenna in order to transfer data wirelessly to a smart device. In other examples, they included pH detectors to check the quality of water and photodetectors to assess light exposure at varying wavelengths.

John A. Rogers mentioned, “Most monitoring technologies involve bulk instrumentation designed to collect data locally at a small number of locations across a spatial area of interest.” The team visualizes the possibility of developing a wireless network through large-scale production and distribution of these sensors.

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