The concepts for Smart Dust emerged from a workshop at RAND in 1992 and a series of DARPA ISAT studies in the mid-1990s due to the potential military applications of the technology. The work was strongly influenced by work at UCLA and the University of Michigan during that period, as well as science fiction authors Neal Stephenson and Vernor Vinge. The first public presentation of the concept by that name was at the American Vacuum Society meeting in Anaheim in 1996.
A Smart Dust research proposal was presented to DARPA written by Kristofer S. J. Pister, Joe Kahn, and Bernhard Boser, all from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1997. The proposal, to build wireless sensor nodes with a volume of one cubic millimeter, was selected for funding in 1998. The project led to a working mote smaller than a grain of rice, and larger "COTS Dust" devices kicked off the TinyOS effort at Berkeley.
The concept was later expanded upon by Kris Pister in 2001. A recent review discusses various techniques to take smartdust in sensor networks beyond millimeter dimensions to the micrometre level.
The Ultra-Fast Systems component of the Nanoelectronics Research Centre at the University of Glasgow is a founding member of a large international consortium which is developing a related concept: smart specks.
Web of Sensors "In the wilds of the San Jacinto Mountains, along a steep canyon, scientists are turning 30 acres [121,000 m²] of pines and hardwoods in California into a futuristic vision of environmental study. They are linking up more than 100 tiny sensors, robots, cameras and computers, which are beginning to paint an unusually detailed portrait of this lush world, home to more than 30 rare and endangered species. Much of the instrumentation is wireless. Devices the size of a deck of cards — known as motes, after dust motes..."