Researchers have developed small robotic devices that utilize origami folds to change their flight pattern in mid-air. These microfliers, weighing only 400 milligrams, can transition from tumbling through the air to dropping straight to the ground by “snapping” into a folded position during their descent. The timing of each device’s transition is controlled by an onboard pressure sensor, an onboard timer, or a Bluetooth signal. In addition to changing their flight pattern, the microfliers also have the ability to carry onboard sensors for data collection.
The origami-inspired design of the microfliers allows for a stable and efficient descent. When in the unfolded state, the fliers tumble chaotically in the wind, similar to an elm leaf. But when switched to the folded state, the airflow around the fliers changes, enabling a stable descent, similar to how a maple leaf falls. This energy-efficient method allows for battery-free control over the microfliers’ descent.
The current microfliers can only transition in one direction, from the tumbling state to the falling state. However, future devices will be able to transition in both directions, allowing for more precise landings in turbulent wind conditions. These robotic systems have the potential to revolutionize various fields, including surveillance and data collection.
The study was funded by the National Science Foundation, the National GEM Consortium, the Google fellowship program, the Cadence fellowship program, the Washington NASA Space Grant fellowship Program, the SPEEA ACE fellowship program, and the Moore Foundation fellowship.
– Origami: The Japanese art of folding paper into decorative or functional shapes.
– Microfliers: Small robotic devices designed for flight.
– Actuator: A device that converts energy into motion.
– Onboard: Located within the device itself.
– University of Washington