Scientists build the 'smallest-ever human-made flying structure' They're just the size of a grain of sand, but the microfliers can carry data-collecting sensors.

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They’re just the size of a grain of sand, but can carry sensors that collect microflare data.

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A microflyer with a ladybug for scale.


It’s raining microchips, Hallelujah. One day, they could float gently in the air, land and then disengage when they were done collecting environmental data. That’s the future, a team of engineers is looking at microchips with miniscule feathers, called “microfliers,” with designs inspired by nature.

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Northwestern University described the microflyer as “the smallest human-made flight structure” in a statement Wednesday. The chips are about the size of a grain of sand and they travel by wind, much like the seeds of a spinning maple tree.

John Rogers said, “Our goal was to add winged flight to small-scale electronic systems, with the idea that these capabilities would enable us to understand the environment for pollution monitoring, population monitoring or disease tracking in highly functional, miniature will allow the distribution of electronic components.” , co-author of a paper on microflares published this week in the journal Nature.

A Northwestern video on microchips emphasizes how tiny they are, showing how they’re manufactured and how they look when they’re flying.

The microchips’ winged, propeller-like design means they fall slowly and can ride the wind. This gives them plenty of time to collect data along the way. The team said they could be equipped with smaller sensors, antennas and even data storage.

Nature has proved to be an inspiration for all kinds of engineering projects in recent years. octopus tentacle grabber To cicada-style drone. Engineers developed the design for the microflyer by studying how the seeds dispersed in the wind perform. The Tristeletia plant and its star-shaped seeds proved to be a good model for electronic devices.

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This microflyer is equipped with coil antenna and UV sensor.

“We think we beat nature,” Rogers said. “At least in the narrow sense that we are able to build structures that fall with more stable trajectories and slower terminal velocities than similar seeds that you would see from plants or trees.”

Rogers and his team are working on a microflyer made of a water-soluble material, providing a great solution to the issue of electronic litter cleanup.

Maybe it’s time to revisit his hit song with Bette Midler singing “The Wind Under My Microchips” in honor of this new innovation.

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