Tiny flying carpet built in Princeton lab

It may be only a few inches across, it may fly rather low. But who cares – it’s a real flying carpet.

A team at Princeton University has taken a leaf out of the manta ray’s book to create a four-inch transparent sheet that ripples along over the ground.

The flying carpet is based on integrated piezoelectric actuators and sensors. The electric current flexes the sheet into little waves that drive tiny pockets of air across the sheet.

The prototype can move at about 120 feet per hour – which means Aladdin might take some time getting to the Agrabah market – and only travels a few inches above the ground.

However, designer Noah Jafferis says he believes it should be possible to increase the speed to a meter or so per second. And he’s working on a solar powered version that removes the need for a battery tether, allowing it to travel over large distances.

While all this may not look like much compared with a hovercraft, there are advantages to the new design – if it can be scaled up to carry Princess Jasmine, that is.

There are no moving parts in the prototype, making it ideal for dusty environments. This means the technology could come in handy sometime in the future for a Mars rover. Or in the Arabian desert, of course.