Fly away, little sensors! These tiny wireless devices could be blown out by the wind – TechCrunch


If you want to monitor the temperature, humidity and exposure of more than 100 square kilometers of forest, you are going to spend a lot of time tying technical trees. But what if you could spread your sensors the same way dandelions and elms spread their seeds? UW researchers have put together devices that are light enough to be carried by the wind.

The project pushes the boundaries of small-scale and purpose-built computers, and while it’s still a prototype, it’s an interesting direction for embedded electronics.

“Our prototype suggests that you could use a drone to release thousands of these devices in a single drop. They will all be carried a little differently by the wind, and in fact, with this one drop, you can create a network of 1000 devices. create,” says Shyam Gollakota, a UW professor and prolific appliance maker.

This is primarily made possible by removing any kind of battery, which significantly reduces the mass of the electronics. Equipped with only a few small sensors, a wireless transceiver and a few small solar cells, the gadget itself weighs less than 30 milligrams.

The wind-catching structure was achieved after dozens of attempts, and finally came to this bicycle wheel shape as one that caused the device to drift far from the starting point, but also land 95% of the time with the solar panels facing up. When dispersed by a drone, they can travel about 100 meters before settling.

Once they’ve landed, they work when it’s light, using radio-frequency backscattering to bounce their signals from the environment and back to each other, forming an ad hoc network that can be collected by a recording device.

It doesn’t come close to the mobility of the wonderfully light dandelion seed, which weighs a single milligram and can travel for miles. But nature has had centuries to perfect her designs, while UW’s team has only just begun. The other challenge, of course, is the fact that real seeds will eventually either turn into dandelions or decay into nothing—while a thousand sensors would remain until picked up or broken into pieces. The team said they are working on that, although the field of biodegradable electronics is still young.

If they can figure out the angle of e-waste (and probably the animals that eat them), it could be very helpful for people who want to keep a close eye on endangered ecosystems.

“This is just the first step, that’s why it’s so exciting. There are so many other directions we can take now,” said lead author Vikram Iyer. The paper describing their work appeared today in the journal Nature.

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