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Smart Dust – Future Communications of the WORLD

The “Internet of Things” or the idea of connecting all machinery, buildings, and stuff, together into one big sensing, recording, and data-logging mega-network–is a hot concept in industry at the moment. Companies like General Electric and Cisco are busy making a node of everything. But, to some people, the “Internet of Things” is yesterday’s buzz-topic. The future is even more ubiquity. It’s something called Smart Dust.

In our daily lives, it is common to see dust accumulated in places that untouched even for just a few days. As this, most of us will consider dust to be dirty. But due to remarkable technological development, a dust that is smarter has emerged and it will change our perception of dust. Everyone must be curious as to what sort of dust this could be. Let’s take a look at this ‘smart dust’.

What is Smart Dust?

Professor Kris Pister from the University of California has developed sensors that are the size of dust particles (1-2mm) and has named these sensors as ‘smart dust’. These sensors are very small and are as hard to see as particles of dust but they have computing capabilities and are being embedded in power supply equipment for two-way wireless transmission and solar electricity functions. One dust particle can create a network with multiple particles and not only transmit a signal but exchange information.

Smart dust” devices are tiny wireless microelectromechanical sensors (MEMS) that can detect everything from light to vibrations. Nodes in Smart Dust are called Motes. These “motes” contain sensors, computing circuits, bidirectional wireless communications technology and a power supply integrated on a tiny dust size-device.

How SmartDust works?

Smart dust is based on microelectromechanical systems, or MEMs. These tiny computer chips can measure temperature, humidity, chemical signatures, movement, brainwaves. Smart dust emerged as a technology that collect real time data. Detection devices that are the size of dust particles can be distributed over an area of interest to acquire real time data. It is also possible to trace individuals with precise information on time and location by receiving and transmitting necessary data. Or the results could trigger an automatic response, such as turning down a building’s temperature or reducing the flow of oil.

The Key Components of Smart Dust

  • A semiconductor laser diode and MEMS beam steering mirror for active optical transmission
  • Corner Cube Retroreflector(CCR) for passive optical transmission
  • Photodetector and receiver
  • An optical receiver
  • A signal processing and control circuitry
  • A power source based on thick-film batteries and solar cells.
  • Tiny Operating System
  • 3Kb RAM
  • RF Wireless Communication System (is required for sending and receiving data with data)

How is Smart Dust Being Used?

Now that we have defined what smart dust is and where it came from, let’s take a look at how it is being used. The Internet that we use every day also received a lot of attention from the military when it first emerged. But now the scope of applications has expanded immensely. The same can be said for smart dust. It emerged in the scene with the intentions of it being used for military applications but it is now being used in diverse fields.

Take a look at this video, Future World – Smart Dust Micro Computers, for a quick (and rather over-heated) overview on Smart Dust from a program that originally aired on the Discovery Channel

Caro Ratti of MIT gave a TED talk on embedded sensor networks, and on how the way we interact with our built environment may be affected by these networks. Please watch Architecture that senses and responds

Let’s look at a few examples

First, an Intel research lab and UC Berkeley are conducting a project using a smart dust wireless network to remotely monitor the environment of the see swallows. Also, smart dust is being used in various fields to prevent damage to crops in harsh weather, observe regions where it is hard for people to get to directly, measure biochemical pollution, prevent forest fires, detect movements of troops and equipment and manage logistics.

The Telecommunication Engineering research facility at Twente University in the Netherlands is also conducting research using smart dust to prevent forest fires. Smart dust is dispersed over a forest and a wireless network is established so that information can be transmitted and real-time monitoring can be done at a centralized monitoring center.

Advantages of Smart Dust

here are following main advantages to using Smart Dust.

For an industry:

  • Improving safety, efficiency, and compliance
  • Reducing system and infrastructure costs
  • Increasing productivity

For farmers or farming purpose:

  • Detecting the needs of the crop resulting in a better fertilization management.
  • It gives farmers a better management of time.
  • Reduction of inputs and Increase of outputs resulting an increase in productivity.

For factories and plants:

  • It automates many manual error-prone tasks which involve calibration and monitoring.
  • Provide accurate data of motor health in order to perform more timely maintenance when needed
  • Detection of corrosion in aging pipes before they leak

For an office environment:

  • It eliminates wired routers entirely and replacing them with a single Smart Dust chip which would handle all hardware and software functions for distributed networks, using five times less power than conventional networks
  • Smart Dust nodes can even be equipped with GPS receivers. Can be used to track the movements of visitors as they roam around the office to see if they are going to any restricted locations.

For military purpose:

  • A military application like monitoring activities in inaccessible areas, accompany soldiers and alert them to any poisons or dangerous biological substances in the air.
  • Security and Tracking
  • In the military, they can perform as a remote sensor chip to track enemy movements, detect poisonous gas or radioactivity.

There are many other smart dust applications apart from these.

Disadvantages of Smart Dust

There are a number of advantages of Smart Dust. But it also has a negative side too. Although the disadvantages seem much minor as compared with their advantages. But still, it is important to take them into consideration. These are:

Privacy Issue: – One of the major disadvantages of Smart Dust is the privacy issue for organizations using it. Detecting even the subtlest changes, Smart Dust leaves little to the imagination. Smart Dust are miniature sensors. They can record whatever you want them to record. Because this new technology is so small, people are scared that they would be spied on by companies.

Cost: – Although Smart Dust is gaining popularity in many fields, it remains costly to implement such a system in an organization. The little chips themselves saw their prices go down by a lot in the recent years, however implementing all the satellites and other elements needed may cost a company a lot of money.

As smart dust is dispersed, it will likely help in the prevention of crime and detection of the potential for natural disasters. There is no doubt that smart dust will be used to monitor various environments and make our lives better.

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