Now, perhaps more than ever, engineers and scientists have been taking inspiration from nature when developing new technologies. This is also true for the smallest flying structure humans have built to date.
Inspired by the way trees like maples disperse their seeds using little more than a stiff breeze, researchers developed a range of tiny flying microchips, the smallest one hardly bigger than a grain of sand.
The microfliers, designed by a team at Northwestern University in Illinois, can be packed with ultra-miniaturized technology, including sensors, power sources, antennas for wireless communication, and even embedded memory for data storage.
"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," says Northwestern's John A. Rogers, who led the development of the new device.
The team of engineers wanted to design devices that would stay in the air for as long as possible, allowing them to maximize the collection of relevant data.