Engineers and scientists often draw inspiration from nature to develop new technologies. This is also true of the smallest flying microchip ever made by humans to date.
Inspired by the way trees scatter their seeds using the gentle breeze, the researchers developed a series of tiny flying microchips that are no larger than a grain of sand.
This flying microchip or "micropter" uses the wind and rotates like a helicopter to the ground.
The microchips, designed by a team at Northwestern University in Illinois, can be packaged with ultra-tiny technology, including sensors, power supplies, wireless antennas and even built-in memory for data storage.
"Our goal was to add flight capabilities to small-scale electronic systems, with the idea that these capabilities would allow us to distribute highly functional, tiny electronic devices to understand the environment for infection monitoring, population monitoring or disease monitoring.", he says John Northwestern A. Rogers, who led the development of the new device.
The team of engineers wanted to design Appliances that would stay in the air as long as possible, allowing them to maximize the collection of relevant data.
When the microscope interacts with the air, its wings create a slow, steady rotational motion.
«We were able to build these helicopter constructions in sizes much smaller than those found in nature».
Rogers believes these devices could potentially fall from the sky en masse and be dispersed to monitor environmental recovery efforts after an oil spill or to monitor levels of air pollution at different altitudes.
"Effective recovery and disposal methods must be carefully considered. One solution that bypasses these issues is exploiting devices made from materials that are naturally absorbed into the environment through chemical reaction and / or natural decomposition into benign end products."
Fortunately, Rogers' lab is developing transient electronics that can be dissolved in water when they are no longer useful. Using similar materials, he and his team aim to build flying structures that could degrade and disappear into groundwater over time.
The research was published in the journal Nature.