Scientists develop wind-powered technique to move objects remotely

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Researchers at Aalto University, led by Professor Quan Zhou, have created a new method to move objects using a jet of wind.

This innovative technique, recently detailed in the journal Advanced Intelligent Systems, opens the possibility of manipulating items from a distance, which could be a game-changer for robotics and various industrial applications.

Wind is a common force in nature, responsible for moving pollen, seeds, and even debris. It’s also used in everyday tools like leaf blowers.

However, controlling the direction of wind-blow objects has always been a challenge—until now.

“While we use air to push leaves into a pile, we’ve never been able to control exactly where each leaf will go,” explains Zhou.

The breakthrough came when the research team managed to study and record how different objects move when subjected to artificially generated airflow.

By analyzing thousands of these movements, they developed templates showing how objects respond to a jet of air on a surface.

Building on this knowledge, Zhou’s team designed a sophisticated algorithm that directs an air nozzle using two motors.

The nozzle doesn’t blast air directly at the object; instead, it aims the air jet from several meters away and off to the side.

This setup creates an airflow field that gently guides the object along a predetermined path. The algorithm makes continual adjustments to ensure the object follows the intended route, whether that’s a straight line, a circle, or more intricate patterns.

“This method works with almost any object shape and material, adding to its versatility,” Zhou adds. The researchers have successfully tested their system by moving objects in various shapes and materials along complex paths.

Although the technology is still in its developmental stages, the implications are promising. The ability to control object movement with air could revolutionize how we collect scattered items, such as directing waste toward a disposal area without physical contact.

It could also prove essential in delicate operations, like handling sensitive electronic circuits where touching the components could cause damage.

The team is optimistic about refining this wind-powered movement technique further. “Understanding more about airflow characteristics could enhance the precision and efficiency of our method,” Zhou notes, indicating that the next steps involve deeper exploration into the dynamics of airflow fields.

This nature-inspired approach not only promises a new way to interact with our environment but also hints at future applications where robots and machines might use “air hands” to perform tasks that require a delicate touch.