'Magic carpet; swims through the air
Noah Jafferis did not expect, when he started graduate school at Princeton, to invent something that has been touted in media coverage from around the world as a "magic carpet."
The idea emerged when Jafferis was investigating inks made with nano-sized particles for printing electronics on flexible plastic sheets. As part of his research in the lab of James Sturm '79, director of the Princeton Institute for the Science and Technology of Materials, he was reading a physics paper on the swimming motion of thin sheets when he got the idea to combine electronics and plastic sheets in a revolutionary way.
After what turned into years of dogged work, the result was a 4-inch-wide sheet of conductive plastic driven by "ripple power," waves of electrical current that push thin pockets of air underneath the plastic sheet, from the front to the rear, allowing it to propel itself forward slightly above a surface.
Sturm told the BBC in a Sept. 30 report that the project seemed "far out" at times, but that the underlying principles and approach were always fundamentally solid and realistic.
"What was difficult was controlling the precise behavior of the sheet as it deformed at high frequencies," Sturm told the organization. "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."
Now that the basic principle has been proven, he is working to improve the performance of the device. Jafferis said he sees potential to install onboard power and an array of sensors and use the device to detect chemicals or other data in remote locations.