Smart Dust: Communication Systems and the Future World

By Ryan Desmind | Dec 10, 2017

When you first hear the word, Smart Dust, you might think of a fairy tale or something involving magic. Smart Dust actually describes microelectromechanical (MEMS) devices that include sensors, computational ability, and more. They can be as tiny as dust particles and can spread throughout buildings and into the atmosphere to collect and monitor data. Smart Dust isn’t actually a new concept and has been around since the beginning of the 1990s when it was invented out of a prolonged research and study project convened by the United States Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Research And Development Corporation (RAND).

Smart Dust can be employed in most industries from agriculture to the medical industry and communication. To be precise, the entire world could be measured by means of these omnipresent sensors. The Machine-to-Machine accessible smart dust is made of motes, which are tiny sensors capable of performing a variety of functions. Smart dust is activated by MEMS and brings progression in digital circuitry and wireless communication. Every node used in the sensor network comprises three subsystems including the mechanisms that sense the environment, the processing means to perform local computations, and the communication subsystem responsible for message exchanging based on adjoining sensor nodes.

Smart Dust Possibilities

A key implementer of smart dust, UC Berkeley Professor Kris Pister, stated in a press conference that,

integrated with superior computing efficiency, wireless radios, and sensing tech, smart dust will be quite a comprehensive solution to study the real time data concerning people, industries, cities as well as natural environment.

The great scopes of these sensors include:

  • The processing power, energy, and networking of a volume of sensors offers a more reliable, consistent, and robust sensor net covering a wider segment. The sensors are backed by a vibration mechanism that can be used to identify problems in machineries installed at oil refineries.
  • The nodes work together and lead to correct sensing. The two most vital operations in any sensor network are basically data broadcasting or spread of voice, queries, and data throughout the network.
  • Sensing nodes can be employed in different industries including military, chemical processing, health, disaster relief, and broadcasting.
  • Smart sensing technology enhances the quality and efficiency of communications, embedded processing, virtualization, and network enabled tools apart from the software infrastructure.
  • The modernization of mobile terminals and information systems and the incorporation of a wide range of sensing-intelligent instruments is supposed to bring superiority to sensory inputs and enhance industry standards.
  • With the development of 3G technologies over the globe, M2M applications are predicted to bring higher data speeds.
  • With the integration of advanced mobile internet instruments like the iPad, these sensory inputs are likely to drive inclination from the world of 3 and 4G mechanisms.
  • While the transportation trade is greatly influenced by real time navigation and require high-level bandwidth, the smart systems will bring advanced connectivity.

With smart dust, there are many possibilities and multinational companies are getting in on it. For example, HP’s goal is to deploy over a trillion smart dust sensors across the planet to generate a Central Nervous System of the Earth and is working with Royal Dutch Shell to install a million monitors to aid in oil exploration. These tiny devices would evaluate the health of ecosystems, foresee the possibility of earthquakes effectively, review traffic patterns, and observe energy use. However, there are still limitations and challenges that come along with smart dust technology.

Limitations and Challenging Factors

  • Sensor nodes are highly prone to breakdown and energy exhaust, while the battery management tends to be weaker because they are usually not rechargeable or replaceable.
  • Sensor nodes presumably will not be backed by global identifiers and naturally the chance of unique addressing would not be feasible.
  • Sensor networks are data-driven; hence the devices will only be effective against data satisfying conditions.
  • Sensor nodes are erratically deployed and don’t follow any standard rules, which make them unfit for unusual topology. Once installed, they will not require any human involvement. Naturally, maintenance or fixing of the network would be completely self-governing.
  • Sensor networks are basically framework-less, which makes them disturbing to every routing or upholding algorithm.
  • Since sensors rely on battery power, the availability of energy at these nodes might be limited especially if the batteries can’t be changed or replaced.
  • To make them energy efficient, the newest techniques of the OS, micro-controller, and application software need to be designed.

Future of Smart Dust

According to researchers, the smart dust hypothesis of monitoring every element of our earth will be highly beneficial to humankind. Organizations like Streetline, have already introduced around 12,000 sensors on different parking areas and highroads in San Francisco. The sensors are integrated with magnetometers to assess and sense if any big metal object is sitting on a specific spot, identifying a car.

According to futurist Alvin Toffler in Investor’s Business Daily, smart dust is likely to be the core industries of the future world. The ARC Advisory Group reports the potential net sales of smart dust should reach the level of $344 million by this year.

The reality factor establishes the possibility of using smart dust in the areas like security, medicine, space exploration, etc. Large corporations such as General Electric, Emerson Electric, or Cargill are highly inspired to use these dust sensors in their technology areas. Tech Giants, Cisco Systems and IBM have started investing millions of dollars to employ smart dusts in systems and networking technology. Kris Pister, the founder of smart sensors stated in a press conference that each node of smart dust elements can interact with each other by means of a web of wireless radio indicators that advances the level of technology in the most consistent way to track widespread industrial systems.

The paper mills, chemical plants, or oil refineries are using sensors in various ways such as determining the flow rates or stress in the valves. This eventually transmits necessary feedback to the central control unit of the computer. Manufacturing plants are utilizing smart dust nodes in the areas to reduce cost of installing wired sensors. Smart dust sensors are entering in the huge processing units like breweries, refineries, and packaged food makers while mining firms are also becoming the valued clients of smart dust. In this context, the amazing part of smart dust is the use of these tiny robotic elements in brain-computer interfaces such as BrainGate by the researchers at UC Berkeley. Berkeley researchers are proposing to sprinkle the brain with sensors to monitor neurons and uncover ways to treat, prevent, and cure brain disorders. If this technology were implemented, there is the possibility of additional medical discoveries that can lead to improvements in health care down the road. We can see smart dust as a potential technology that can help Since smart dust technology can be applied in various industries, we’re excited about the possibilities of smart dust and the opportunity to integrate this technology into mobile solutions to transform business processes in the future.

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