Researchers from the University of Washington have developed tiny wind-dispersed robots that are capable of folding and shape-shifting in mid-air to control their descent. These robots, named microfliers, weigh as much as a pumpkin seed and are a few centimeters square in size.
The team designed the microfliers with origami folds, allowing them to snap between two different shapes, each with a different falling behavior. When the robot is flatter, it spreads outwards with the wind during descent, while with the other shape, it falls straight down.
By manipulating the shape of the microfliers, the researchers aim to achieve fine-grained control over where they land. The robots are equipped with sensors to measure temperature, humidity, and other environmental conditions. They can be released by a drone and automatically disperse across an area to gather measurements.
The folding action of the microfliers is powered by a small array of solar cells, along with an actuator made from a wire coil and a magnet. The robots also contain a tiny onboard computing chip, radio receiver and transmitter, timer, and sensors. The shape change of the robot can be programmed at a specific time, pressure, or height, or triggered via remote control.
One of the advantages of these robots is that they are battery-free, making them lighter and eliminating the environmental issues associated with batteries. The researchers are also working on developing circuits on biodegradable materials. The ultimate goal is to combine all these elements to create devices that can disperse in the wind, fulfill sensing objectives, and eventually degrade naturally over time.
Source: University of Washington, Science Robotics