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UW Team's Tiny Sensors Float in the Wind Like Dandelion Seeds

University of Washington's dandelion sensor

The device's onboard electronics include sensors, a capacitor, a microcontroller, and tiny black rectangular solar panels.

Credit: Mark Stone / University of Washington

Inspired by how dandelions use the wind to distribute their seeds, a University of Washington team has developed a tiny sensor-carrying device that can be blown by the wind as it tumbles toward the ground. The system is about 30 times as heavy as a 1 milligram dandelion seed but can still travel up to 100 meters in a moderate breeze from where it was released by a drone. Once on the ground, the device, which can hold at least four sensors, uses solar panels to power its onboard electronics and can share sensor data up to 60 meters away.

The team describes its work in "Wind Dispersal of Battery-Free Wireless Devices," published in the journal Nature.

"Our prototype suggests that you could use a drone to release thousands of these devices in a single drop. Basically you can create a 1,000-device network with this one drop," says Shyam Gollakota, a UW professor in the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering. Manually deploying that many sensors could take months, he says.

The team's design includes a capacitor to store some charge overnight.

From University of Washington
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