These microscopic drones can track pollution and disease

A photograph of one of Northwestern's winged drones next to a ladybug

Engineers at Northwestern University have created tiny flying microchips that they say can be used to track populations, air pollution and the presence of airborne disease.

About the size of a grain of sand, flying microchips, or microfliers, have no motor or motor. Instead, the tiny devices catch the wind and fly (or float) in the same way as the pods of maple trees.

The design means that instead of falling from the sky, the microfliers fall at a slower rate and in a controlled manner. During this descent, they can be used to measure different conditions in the atmosphere.

According to Northwestern, the devices are the “smallest flying structures ever created by man” and can be equipped with miniaturized technologies such as sensors, power sources and antennas for wireless communication.

“Our goal was to add winged flight to small-scale electronic systems, with the idea that these capabilities would allow us to distribute highly functional miniaturized electronic devices to detect the environment for contamination monitoring, environmental monitoring. population or disease monitoring, ”said John A. Rogers, a faculty expert at Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science.

Microscopic drones consists of two parts, a bed of electronic components and sensors, and wings to control the descent.

Electronic components include a power source that can recover ambient energy, memory for storage, and an antenna for transferring data to a smartphone, tablet, or computer.

A close-up photo of the three-winged microflier

Sensors installed on microfliers include those capable of detecting particles in the air, atmospheric pH, and exposure to sunlight.

The researchers said they were considering studies where a large “swarm” of these drones are dropped at different altitudes to assess air pollution.

The devices could be used to monitor the environmental impact of chemical spills or to track levels of air pollution at different altitudes.

Dropping thousands of these tiny drones into the atmosphere could create a huge cleanup job once the microfliers hit the ground. But, the Northwestern team managed to fix this problem.

The lab said it can create electronic components that dissolve in water when not needed, meaning microfliers will naturally degrade and disappear into groundwater over time.

Editor’s Note: I have a real problem with Northwestern’s claim they are flying structures. If these things fly, so does the dust. –RC

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