Princeton Team Creates Plastic “Flying Carpet”

It is Arabian Nights recreated, but not quite. A team of researchers at Princeton has come up with a plastic, which remains suspended when a current of particular frequency is passed through it. Piezoelectric actuators and sensors respond to the electrical signals and send ripples across the entire surface of the thin sheet, displacing air pockets right beneath it. This allows the sheet to float. Synchronized vibrations can push these air pockets from the front to the back of the sheet, allowing propulsion.

The Flying Carpet Contraption

The “Flying” Carpet

The Flying Carpet’ has been designed by a graduate student at Princeton Mr. Noah Jafferis. He says that he was inspired by a mathematical paper he read, which was written by Harvard professor Lakshminarayanan Mahadevan.

The propulsion is also inspired by the way stingrays move in the water. They create ripples through their flattened bodies in a manner so as to displace water in a particular direction. The reaction force propels the rays in the opposite direction.

More Work to be Done!

There are problems though. The plastic sheet bends too much at high frequencies. Nevertheless Jafferis has already assigned himself a new project. To build such a thing powered by solar cells. This current model uses heavy batteries, which are kept on the table and connected to the sheet by wires. Thus, the plastic can hardly move more than a few centimeters. Further, the speed is pretty slow at 1 cm/s. Jafferis wants to go to upto as high as 1 m/s.

In the paper that they published Applied Physics Letters, Jafferis and team consciously put flying’ within double-quotes, indicating that it is not really a flying object, just a hovering one.

As for applications, there may be many. Right now, people are just concentrating on building this fascinating thing. It’s still a long way from the fast flying magical carpets we’re so used to seeing in the cartoons.

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Debjyoti Bardhan

Is a science geek, currently pursuing some sort of a degree (called a PhD) in Physics at TIFR, Mumbai. An enthusiastic but useless amateur photographer, his most favourite activity is simply lazing around. He is interested in all things interesting and scientific.