Tiny Electronic Fliers to Monitor the Environment

Scientists have attempted to use the aerodynamics of seed dispersal as the inspiration for a new airborne sensor. The tiny fliers, some of which are smaller than a grain of sand could, in the future float into the atmosphere and monitor the environment.


They would range in size from 40mm to 0.4mm. They do not use power because they’ve been designed to float as long as possible in the air, running on their bio-inspired aerodynamic structures. A team of engineers from Northwestern University developed their shapes through computer simulation and physical prototyping. They concluded with a tiny flier that moves at a convenient maximum speed of 28 cm/sec when falling to the ground. Compared with snowflakes, which fall at 250 cm/sec, they will resemble the rate of seed dispersal in nature by the wind.

With their ability to collect data, these fliers could be used as environmental assessment tools. The developers are hoping that clouds of units could be dispersed through airplanes or drones for tasks like monitoring chemical spills or atmospheric pollution. The fliers would collect data as they float to the ground or when they reach the ground.