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An Organic Take on Environmental Monitoring

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Today, certain industries establish their links to nature to lure more customers and contribute to the environment from different angles. 

With most businesses and industries heading towards nature for inspiration, the environmental monitoring industry is keeping up with the trend. Northwestern University in Illinois is home to engineers who have successfully developed a tiny device called a micro flier. These small devices can deliver airdropped payloads such as environmental sensors to the ground in a secure manner. Their structure has complex 3D geometry that is created after assessing elements of natural seeds. 

Micro fliers work without engines or motors and are modeled with a solid aerodynamic structure. Their seed-inspired structure allows them to fall slowly to the ground while maintaining a controlled speed. Their design ensures that their payload is accurately delivered. 

 How did nature inspire micro fliers?

Nature has been a reservoir of inspiration since time immemorial. Its engineering is beyond compliments, and researchers have addressed its wonders time and again. A similar case of inspiration can be traced in Northwestern University as the researchers began studying seed dispersal facilitated by the wind. Winds carry away seeds from trees such as maple and sycamore and transport them to different locations. The seed falls onto the ground, and upon experiencing favorable conditions, it flourishes. 

 Over billions of years, seeds have been re-engineered to reach the perfect structures that showcase highly functional aerodynamics. Researchers observed the natural sources and derived a set of results highlighting the possibility that their design could be imitated to carry electronics. 

The tristellateia, commonly found in Madagascar, East Africa, and South Asia, serves as a direct influence on the formation and structure of micro fliers. The plant has star-shaped seeds with bladed wings. Its seeds follow a slow spinning motion while falling on the ground. They have the perfect structure to support slow and secure landing. 

How were the micro fliers created 

The engineers involved in the project first created draft models in a planar, flat geometry. These models were then bonded over a slightly stretched rubber substrate. As the tension on the substrate was released and the rubber relaxed, the models buckled in a controlled motion. The micro flier wings then popped up into precisely defined 3D structures. The final model was wholly functional and self-sufficient on account of its construction.  

The micro fliers are about the size of a grain of sand. Despite being lightweight, they can deliver payloads such as sensors and other electronic devices to the ground. Each micro flier is constituted of micro-sized electronic components. Since the electronics are the heaviest part of the micro fliers, their extra mass is sited low and central. This arrangement ensures slow and controlled gliding that keeps the electronic components steady while offering a smooth landing. 

 How are micro fliers appropriate for environmental monitoring? 

Micro flier wings have a stabilized flight that is inspired by seeds. Their design makes them an excellent option for becoming environmental sensors. Since these devices are small and do not require complicated machinery, they can be quickly released in diverse geographical settings. They can carry sensors for recording different parameters such as air quality, humidity, and temperature. 

As the tiny micro fliers get deployed in swarms across different areas, they can be one of the most appropriate and economical ways of gathering accurate ecological information. As noted by Dickson, the electronics attached to the device can carry memory chips and sensors to maintain data records.  

Engineers say that the device can include electronic, microfluidic, optoelectronic, and microelectromechanical components. Moreover, they can add ultra-miniaturized technologies like power sources, memory storage, and wireless communication receptors to the device.  

Micro fliers are better candidates for collecting more data from locations that might typically be difficult to access. These devices can be dropped from a plane, launched via a drone, or simply thrown from a building. In any of the mentioned cases, the controlled flight facility will give the sensors enough time to collect data and analyze the required parameters. 

Another remarkable proposition by researchers is forming a local wireless network through a swarm of micro fliers. The data collected from various sensors would provide a more accurate derivation of the target area. The micro fliers inserted with sensors and memory chips can serve as data loggers and prove to be an effective solution for policy-makers and researchers who can obtain environment-related information and make the best decisions based on their observations. 

What is environmental monitoring?

Environmental monitoring is the term given to the entire mechanism of tools and measures required to collect and assess different components of the environment. These components can include the presence of certain compounds, air quality, temperature, and pressure.

As nature continues to experience the atrocities of pollution through the air, water, land, and other means, the need to develop reforms is highlighted. With environmental monitoring, it becomes easy for scientists, researchers, policy-making authorities, and citizens to comprehend the condition of their surroundings and acquire an accurate data-centric approach.  

Safe ways to do environmental monitoring

Accurate environmental monitoring is essential when gathering data on environmental metrics. Researchers have many different ways to approach the task. One of the simplest ways is by releasing automated drones with built-in sensors and cameras to capture information in image data.  

Data loggers are a go-to option for environmental monitoring used across many different industries such as pharmaceuticals, healthcare, food manufacturing, automobile, and research. 

Data loggers are automated devices available in different versions that are easy to use. 

They do not pose any environmental damage and therefore qualify as a safe option for ecological monitoring. 

As the number of digital advancements in the healthcare, environment, and many other sectors continue to increase, we can be sure that there is much more innovation to come.

 The micro fliers created by the research engineers from the Northwestern University in Illinois are an organic take on environmental monitoring. They simplify the process of data collection and facilitate better ecological modeling. The device is also getting recognized for its ideal application in population health assessment and public policies because data collection through micro fliers can help with better decision-making. 


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