Context: Northwestern University engineers have created an electronic microchip which has the capability of flight.

New flying microchip: Microfliers

  • The microfliers can be packed with ultra-miniaturized technology, including sensors, power sources, antennas for wireless communication, and even embedded memory for data storage.
  • About the size of a grain of sand, the new flying microchip (or microflier) does not have a motor or engine.
  • It 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 per University, these microflier as the ‘smallest-ever human-made flying structures’.
  • Idea from maple leaf: By studying maple trees and other types of wind-dispersed seeds, the engineers optimised the microflier’s aerodynamics to ensure that it — when dropped at a high elevation — falls at a slow velocity in a controlled manner.
    • This behaviour stabilizes its flight, ensures dispersal over a broad area and increases the amount of time it interacts with the air, making it ideal for monitoring air pollution and airborne disease.
  • Significance: The features would made it possible to distribute highly functional, miniaturized electronic devices to sense the environment for contamination monitoring, population surveillance or disease tracking.

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