Researchers at Princeton University have come up with a 10cm (4in) piece of plastic that has taken flight in their laboratory.
Using tiny conducting threads that electrify the plastic, the “flying carpet” is driven by “ripple power” – waves of electricity driving thin pockets of air from front to rear underneath.
According to the team, this prototype is able to move at speeds of about a centimeter per second.
For the moment, the device doesn’t have the possibility to lift things, showing only self-propulsion. The new improvements of the design will create both aerodynamic lift and raise the propulsion speed to as much as a meter per second.
“What was difficult was controlling the precise behavior of the sheet as it deformed at high frequencies Without the ability to predict the exact way it would flex, we couldn’t feed in the right electrical currents to get the propulsion to work properly,” Prof. James Sturm, who leads Mr Jafferis’ research group, told the BBC.
In the near future the researchers plan to develop the same device powered by solar energy.