Microchips the size of a grain of sand and with the capability to fly have been designed that could help to monitor airborne pollution and disease.
Developed by engineers at Northwestern University, the chips do not have a motor or engine and instead catch flight on the wind. In a similar way to maple tree seeds, the chips use the wind to spin like a helicopter through the air toward the ground.
By studying maple trees and other types of wind-dispersed seeds, the engineers optimised the microflier’s aerodynamics to ensure that it falls at a slow velocity in a controlled manner when dropped at high velocity.
This behaviour stabilises its flight to ensure dispersal over a broad area and increasing the amount of time it interacts with the air, making it ideal for monitoring air pollution and airborne disease.
The engineers believe they are the smallest-ever human-made flying structures and they have been designed so that they can be packed with ultra-miniaturised technology, including sensors, power sources, antennas for wireless communication and embedded memory to store data.