Devices as small as grains of sand capable of monitoring and collecting information through sensors, cameras and communicating it back to the systems. Sounds too farfetched and straight out of science fiction? Smart Dust technology is here and will change the social, economic, political and business world as we know it.
Smart Dust is the future of wireless communication. The basic concept behind Smart Dust is that a wireless network is created when the tiny MEMS devices are launched over the target area.
MEMS (Micro Electro Mechanical Systems) often referred to individually as motes, have sensing, computing, wireless and autonomous power supply within its structure. These motes consist of wireless transceiver. When they are spread throughout the atmosphere, they act as powerful means of collecting and monitoring information. Collectively the motes are known as smart dust.
Smart dust can sense vibrations and other physical phenomena in space. Although still in design stages, this technology allows information gathering to be used in various statistical analysis and achieve accurate decision making.
The operation scale of smart dust elements near or at nanoscale (defined as 1 to 100 nm) may impact many industries in terms of automation and monitoring.
Future practical applications of smart dust
Smart dust technology is not yet operational, but various measures are constantly being made towards its realization. For example, in 2016, researchers at the University of Stuttgart created camera lenses the size of a grain of salt, which are capable of taking high quality images. Tiny OS is the operating platform used to design the smart dust components.
Collecting information about any environment air, water or land in a detailed manner with high resolution images is one of the vital features of the smart dust. Some of the future practical applications of this technology are:
- Military applications – Monitoring activities in inaccessible areas, surveillance and military support, accompany soldiers, Alert them to poisonous gas and dangerous substance in air land etc.
- Transportation domain – Road sign recognition application where smart dust broadcaster signals are picked up to make the driver aware of road sign ahead, poor visibility and bad weather conditions, traffic light application etc.
- Factory automation and manufacturing/chemical plants – Motes installed at critical points to monitor condition of essential equipment on a continuous basis, provide critical data collection without human intervention to prevent a system failure. Monitor equipment to facilitate timely maintenance, identify structural weaknesses and corrosion points.
- Agriculture sector – Monitor crops in an unprecedented scale to determine watering, fertilization and pest-control needs
- Medical and biological research – A research paper published at UC Berkeley about the potential for neural dust (an implantable system to be sprinkled on the human brain), to provide feedback about brain functionality.
- Micro robotics – Create micro robots by adding legs or wings to the motes to sense, think and communicate
- Other applications
Concerns and issues
Although a nascent technology, smart dust must work on some of the concerns before its wide scale adoption.
- Privacy: Due to their small size, smart dust is difficult to detect and control. Their sensors can record anything they are programmed to record, leading to privacy issues. This negatively affects its adoption.
- Cost factor: For full implementation of smart dust technology, the cost factor includes the satellites, SoC chips and other elements required. Until this comes down, it will not be feasible for all stakeholders and interested parties.
Designing and implementation: Incorporating all the devices of that small size while maintaining low energy consumption is a challenge. Need to maintain longer operating life for communicating with the base station.
– Shantha Kumari,
Sr. Technical Writer,