Researchers use moths to airdrop sensors and measure environmental conditions

The sensor system weighing only 98 milligram, about one tenth the weight of a jellybean, can ride aboard an insect like moth or a small drone to reach its destination.

Updated - October 10, 2020 04:22 pm IST

Published - October 10, 2020 04:17 pm IST

A Manduca sexta moth with the sensor on its back

A Manduca sexta moth with the sensor on its back

Researchers have developed a light-weight sensor system that can be carried by small insects like a moth to destinations that are dangerous or too small for humans to reach. These sensors can be used to map out conditions like temperature and humidity in these regions.

“This is the first time anyone has shown that sensors can be released from tiny drones or insects such as moths, which can traverse through narrow spaces better than any drone and sustain much longer flights,” said Shyam Gollakota, an associate professor in University of Washington.

Researchers from the University have created the sensor system weighing only 98 milligram, about one tenth the weight of a jellybean, that can ride aboard an insect like moth or a small drone to reach its destination.

Once it reaches the destination, researchers can send a Bluetooth command to drop the sensor from its perch. The sensor is held on the insect using a magnetic pin surrounded by a thin coil of wire. As soon as a researcher sends a wireless command to release the sensor, it creates a current through the coil that makes the magnetic pin to pop out the sensor.

The sensor can fall from a maximum height of 72 feet without breaking. It is powered by a battery. On its way down, it begins rotating around the corner with the battery that slows its descent. This, combined with the sensor’s low weight, keeps the maximum fall speed at around 11 miles per hour, allowing the sensor to land safely, according to the researchers.

After landing, the sensor can collect data like temperature or humidity, for around three years.

The researchers believe that they can use this to create a network of sensors in a study area. This includes scattering sensors across a forest or farm to track them. They expect that this system can be deployed in different locations, including environmentally sensitive areas.

They are developing a mechanism to recover sensors once their batteries expire. They plan to replace the battery with a solar cell and automate sensor deployment in industrial settings.

The team was inspired by the idea of how the military drops food and essential supplies from helicopters in disaster zones. The same concept was implemented to develop this system.

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