Adding winged flight to small-scale electronic systems allows highly functional, miniaturized electronic devices to be deployed to sense the environment for contamination monitoring, population surveillance, Sun exposure, or disease tracking.
About the size of a grain of sand, the flying microchip (or microflier) does not have a motor or engine. It comprises two parts: millimeter-sized electronic functional components and their wings. The team included sensors, a power source that can harvest ambient energy, memory storage, and an antenna that can wirelessly transfer data to a smart phone, tablet, or computer. The microflier catches flight on the wind — much like a maple tree’s propeller seed — and spins like a helicopter through the air toward the ground. As the microflier falls through the air, its wings interact with the air to create a slow, stable rotational motion. The weight of the electronics is distributed low in the center of the microflier to prevent it from losing control and chaotically tumbling to the ground.
Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois
Device miniaturization represents the dominating development trajectory in the electronics industry, where sensors, radios, batteries, and other components can be constructed in ever smaller dimensions.
The innovators imagine that a large number of devices could be dropped from a plane or building and broadly dispersed to monitor environmental remediation efforts after a chemical spill or to track levels of air pollution at various altitudes. A big multiplicity of miniaturized sensors can be distributed at a high spatial density over large areas to form a wireless network.