Scientists at the University of Washington have developed tiny electronic devices called “microfliers” that can change their flight pattern by folding like origami paper in midair. These microfliers, which weigh less than a small nail, are equipped with a programmable microcontroller, a Bluetooth radio, a solar power-harvesting circuit, a pressure sensor, and a temperature sensor.
Inspired by the way leaves fall through the air, the researchers designed the microfliers to be dispersed by the wind. When fully open, the wind catches the origami base of the microfliers and moves them like autumn leaves. To make the microfliers drop straight down, operators can send a signal via Bluetooth or use an onboard timer or altitude sensor.
The microfliers utilize the Miura-ori origami fold, inspired by geometric patterns found in leaves, to snap into a smaller size and descend rapidly. This folding pattern together with power harvesting and tiny actuators allows the microfliers to mimic the flight of different leaf types in mid-air. The origami structure of the microfliers enables stable descent and efficient control over their movement.
These solar-powered microfliers, about the size of a postage stamp, are capable of traveling the length of a football field in a light breeze when dropped from a height of 40 meters. They have the potential to gather environmental data such as temperature and humidity. However, concerns have been raised about the possibility of these microfliers being used for surveillance purposes in a dystopian surveillance state.
The ability of microfliers to change their flight pattern through origami folding offers new design possibilities for these tiny devices. The researchers believe that this technology has the potential for various applications in the future.
Source: University of Washington Science Robotics