Sensors Reach Destinations on Flying Insects for Science

Falling at the speed of around 11 miles per hour, they will land safely on the ground.
Deniz Yildiran
A Manduca sexta moth with the sensor on its back.Mark Stone/University of Washington

It's not always possible for researchers to examine every area they are supposed to, and the recent creation is about to become a little replacement for them. 

Researchers from the University of Washington developed a 98-milligram sensor system, as light as one-tenth of a jelly bean. And this little chip will ride aboard a drone or a flying insect to sacrifice itself upon its arrival to the destination.

It will fall off the roost with just a click via Bluetooth and make a smooth landing from up to 72 feet (approximately 21.9 meters) high.


The sensor will carry on its duty on the ground, collecting temperature or humidity data for a three-year period at maximum. 

The team introduced the research on Sept. 24 at MobiCom 2020.

This little sensor is held on its rooster thanks to its magnetic pin surrounded by a thin coil of wire. When it hits the destination, a wireless command is sent by a researcher and the magnetic field generated through the coil drops the sensor. 

“We have seen examples of how the military drops food and essential supplies from helicopters in disaster zones. We were inspired by this and asked the question: Can we use a similar method to map out conditions in regions that are too small or too dangerous for a person to go to?” senior author Shyam Gollakota, a UW associate professor in the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering, said.

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The plan is to scatter many of them across a specific area, such as a forest or a farm. By creating a sensor network, they will be able to study the exact place they like to. 

"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,” Gollakota said.

Obviously, anything we can do, nature can do better. 

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