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Smart Dust

Smart Dust

Smart Dust is a collection of tiny electronic sensors that can collect and report a variety of types of data. In many cases these sensors are designed to self-organize into wireless mesh networks in order to report their data collection. As the sensors become smaller and cheaper, more applications for them will become obvious.

SmartDust & Ubiquitious Computing – [nanotech-now.com]

In the future, there will be hundreds of billions of embedded chips and sensing devices integrated into everything from key chains and swimming pools to your apartment’s walls and even your skin. All of these devices will be able to compute, sense and communicate with each other. …

SMART DUST – Autonomous sensing and communication in a cubic millimeter – [berkely.edu]

The science/engineering goal of the Smart Dust project is to demonstrate that a complete sensor/communication system can be integrated into a cubic millimeter package. This involves both evolutionary and revolutionary advances in miniaturization, integration, and energy management. We aren’t targeting any particular sensor, in fact there is no direct funding for sensor research in the project (but we’ve got quite a few to choose from based on a decade or two of outstanding MEMS work at Berkeley and elsewhere).
We’re funded by DARPA, so we will demonstrate Smart Dust with one or more applications of military relevance. In addition, we’re pursuing several different applications with commercial importance, and we’ve got a long list of applications to work on if we only had the time. Here’s a sampling of some possible applications, in no particular order:

  • Defense-related sensor networks – battlefield surveillance, treaty monitoring, transportation monitoring, scud hunting, …
  • Virtual keyboard – Glue a dust mote on each of your fingernails. Accelerometers will sense the orientation and motion of each of your fingertips, and talk to the computer in your watch. QWERTY is the first step to proving the concept, but you can imagine much more useful and creative ways to interface to your computer if it knows where your fingers are: sculpt 3D shapes in virtual clay, play the piano, gesture in sign language and have to computer translate, … – Combined with a MEMS augmented-reality heads-up display, your entire computer I/O would be invisible to the people around you. Couple that with wireless access and you need never be bored in a meeting again! Surf the web while the boss rambles on and on.
  • Inventory Control – The carton talks to the box, the box talks to the palette, the palette talks to the truck, and the truck talks to the warehouse, and the truck and the warehouse talk to the internet. Know where your products are and what shape they’re in any time, anywhere. Sort of like FedEx tracking on steroids for all products in your production stream from raw materials to delivered goods.
  • Product quality monitoring – temperature, humidity monitoring of meat, produce, dairy products
    Mom, don’t buy those Frosted Sugar Bombs, they sat in 80% humidity for two days, they won’t be crunchy! – impact, vibration, temp monitoring of consumer electronics – failure analysis and diagnostic information, e.g. monitoring vibration of bearings for frequency signatures indicating imminent failure (back up that hard drive now!)
  • Smart office spaces – The Center for the Built Environment has fabulous plans for the office of the future in which environmental conditions are tailored to the desires of every individual. Maybe soon we’ll all be wearing temperature, humidity, and environmental comfort sensors sewn into our clothes, continuously talking to our workspaces which will deliver conditions tailored to our needs. No more fighting with your office mates over the thermostat.
  • Interfaces for the Disabled (courtesy of Bryndis Tobin) – Bryndis sent me email with the following idea: put motes “on a quadriplegic’s face, to monitor blinking & facial twitches – and send them as commands to a wheelchair/computer/other device.” This could be generalized to a whole family of interfaces for the disabled. Thanks Bryndis!
  • The dark side – Yes, personal privacy is getting harder and harder to come by. Yes, you can hype Smart Dust as being great for big brother (thank you, New Scientist). Yawn. Every technology has a dark side – deal with it. [this was my original comment on “dark side” issues, but it made a lot of people think that we weren’t thinking about these issues at all. Not true.]
    As an engineer, or a scientist, or a hair stylist, everyone needs to evaluate what they do in terms of its positive and negative effect. If I thought that the negatives of working on this project were larger than or even comparable to the positives, I wouldn’t be working on it. As it turns out, I think that the potential benefits of this technology far far outweigh the risks to personal privacy.

Utility Fog

2 Responses to “ Smart Dust ”

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