Dandelions inspired by these sensors blow the wind and could transform climate science

Blowing dandelion seeds into the wind isn’t just a pretty little way for kids (and adults) to waste a warm afternoon outside. They are also a particularly effective way for certain plants to spread their seeds far and wide. Inspired by this groundbreaking innovation, electronics engineers have designed their own sensor that mimics the free-floating ability of dandelions to hang in the air and disperse. in the wind.

The new sensors, debuted in a paper published Wednesday in natureopens up the potential to create networks of airborne instrumentation that could greatly advance applications in environmental monitoring.

“Our prototype suggests that you could use drones to drop thousands of these devices in one drop,” said senior author Shyam Gollakota, University of Washington engineer and co-author of the study. new research, said in a press release. “They will all be carried by the wind a little differently, and you can essentially create a network of 1,000 devices with this one drop. This is amazing and transformative for the field of sensor deployment, because right now it can take months to manually deploy many of these sensors.”


The researchers tested 75 different designs of the sensor, some of which are shown here.

Mark Stone / University of Washington

The new sensors, embellished with vibrant yellow, weigh around 30 milligrams, so they’re heavier than the average dandelion seed. But they still have to travel about 330 feet in a breeze when released in the air. They operate without batteries, are instead powered by small solar panels on board, and can collect and send data back up to 200 feet away.

Gollakota and his team had to test 75 different designs before they landed on one that was light enough to be tossed with ease but still equipped with tools that could provide some utility. . The team has built versions of the sensor that can measure environmental data such as temperature, humidity, pressure and light.

The main idea behind these sensors is that they can be a very cheap and easy to deploy approach to looking at smaller, more subtle changes in climate or ecology that cannot be seen with satellites. satellite or stationary ground equipment. We can use this technology to help inform how farmers grow crops or prepare communities for dangerous weather events.

The main drawback of these devices is that they effectively turn off when the sun goes down. They are also non-biodegradable. Gollakota and his team wanted to improve the design to overcome both of these problems.

But even with those obstacles, there are endless directions to using these sensors – literally and figuratively. The future of climate research may simply be a dandelion swarm of hundreds or even thousands of these sensors flying through the wind and arming scientists with the data they’ve been missing for years. try to collect. Dandelions inspired by these sensors blow the wind and could transform climate science

Russell Falcon

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