Blowin' in the wind
At first glance, these might look like tiny shreds of tinfoil on a piece of glass.
But look closer, and you’ll see the specks are actually intricate structures — tiny robots, called microfliers.
Researchers writing in a September 22 report in the journal Nature say these devices are the smallest man-made structures capable of flight.
Two main parts make up a microflier: millimeter-sized electronic components (like sensors and circuits), and wings made of polymer.
“These biological structures are designed to fall slowly and in a controlled manner, so they can interact with wind patterns for the longest-possible period of time.”
John A. Rogers, study coauthor
robert reader/Moment/Getty Images
The researchers say they could be deployed to monitor air pollution, airborne diseases, and water quality.
They even created a version that’s water-soluble, a type of electronics design that researchers of the Nature paper had done previous work on.
Similar micro-robotics projects from the past few years could help with drug delivery and pollution cleanup.
And while they may tackle different problems, many miniature robots have something in common: they often take inspiration from nature.