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Wind-Propelled Flying Microchip Measures Air Pollution

Researchers have assembled the world's smallest flying structure, a tiny microchip that travels like wind-dispersed seeds with onboard technology to track air pollution and airborne diseases.

Flying microchip on a dandelion
Northwestern University
Microflier drone next to a ladybug for scale
Northwestern University
To craft the smallest flying structure humans have ever produced, researchers turned to nature. Engineers from Northwestern University designed a flying microchip about the size of a grain of sand to travel not by motor but by catching the wind, much like wind-dispersed seeds. The light weight and small size mean that the “microflier” falls at slow speeds that stabilize its flight, which maximizes air time. Because it’s packed with super-miniature tech, it’s perfect for measuring air pollution and airborne diseases.

Supported by grants from the National Science Foundation, the team demonstrated the flier’s ability to use sensors, memory storage and an antenna that can wirelessly transfer data to a smartphone or tablet. In addition to air monitoring, they’re working on a model outfitted with pH sensors that could be used to measure water quality. Looking ahead, the team plans to build the microfliers from biodegradable electronics materials that would dissolve in groundwater over time.

Source: Northwestern University