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Smartdust[1] is a system of many tiny microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) such as sensors, robots, or other devices, that can detect, for example, light, temperature, vibration, magnetism, or chemicals. They are usually operated on a computer network wirelessly and are distributed over some area to perform tasks, usually sensing through radio-frequency identification. Without an antenna of much greater size the range of tiny smart dust communication devices is measured in a few millimeters and they may be vulnerable to electromagnetic disablement and destruction by microwave exposure.

Design and engineering


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.[2] The work was strongly influenced by work at UCLA and the University of Michigan during that period, as well as science fiction authors Stanislaw Lem (in novels The Invincible in 1964 and Peace on Earth in 1985), 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[3] 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,[4] and larger "COTS Dust" devices kicked off the TinyOS effort at Berkeley.

The concept was later expanded upon by Kris Pister in 2001.[5] A recent review discusses various techniques to take smartdust in sensor networks beyond millimeter dimensions to the micrometre level.[6]

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.[7]

Smart Dust entered the Gartner Hype Cycle on Emerging Technologies in 2003,[8] and returned in 2013, as the most speculative entrant.[9]

In 2022, a Nature paper written by Shyamnath Gollakota, Vikram Iyer, Hans Gaensbauer and Thomas Daniel, all from the University of Washington, presented tiny light-weight programmable battery-free wireless sensors that can be dispersed in the wind.[10] These devices were inspired by Dandelion seeds that can travel as far as a kilometer in dry, windy, and warm conditions.



Dust Networks started a project exploring the application of Smartdust, which included:

  • Defense-related sensor networks such as battlefield surveillance, treaty monitoring, transportation monitoring, and scud hunting.
  • Virtual keyboard sensors: by attaching miniature remotes to each fingernail, accelerometers could then sense the orientation and motion of each fingertip, and communicate this data to a computer in a wristwatch.
  • Inventory control: by placing miniature sensors on each object in the inventory system (product package, carton, pallet, truck warehouse, internet), each component could "talk" to the next component in the system. This evolved into today's RFID inventory control systems.
  • Product quality monitoring: temperature and humidity monitoring of perishables such as meat, produce, and dairy.
  • Impact, vibration and temperature monitoring of consumer electronics, for failure analysis and diagnostic information, e.g. monitoring the vibration of bearings to detect frequency signatures that may indicate imminent failure.

See also



  1. ^ More than Meets the eye. PC Mag. Mar 12, 2002. Page 30.
  2. ^ Rosenthal, Marshal M. "Gamebits: Digital Tricks". Games. Issue 160 (Vol 24, #3). Pg.6. May 2000.
  3. ^ "Smart Dust: BAA97-43 Proposal Abstract, POC: Kristofer S.J. Pister" (PDF). berkeley.edu. Retrieved 19 April 2018.
  4. ^ "An autonomous 16 mm/sup 3/ solar-powered node for distributed wireless sensor networks - IEEE Conference Publication". doi:10.1109/ICSENS.2002.1037346. S2CID 17152548. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  5. ^ "CiteSeerX". psu.edu. Retrieved 19 April 2018.
  6. ^ Makin, Simon (August 8, 2016). ""Neural Dust" Could Enable a Fitbit for the Nervous System". Scientific American. Retrieved 19 April 2018.
  7. ^ "Smart Dust for Space Exploration". Archived from the original on 2017-06-30. Retrieved 2010-01-28.
  8. ^ "2003 Gartner Hype Cycle on emerging technologies". Gartner. Retrieved 20 August 2016.
  9. ^ "2013 Gartner Hype Cycle on emerging technologies". Gartner. Archived from the original on August 19, 2013. Retrieved 14 September 2015.
  10. ^ Iyer, Vikram; Gaensbauer, Hans; Daniel, Thomas L.; Gollakota, Shyamnath (2022-03-17). "Wind dispersal of battery-free wireless devices". Nature. 603 (7901): 427–433. Bibcode:2022Natur.603..427I. doi:10.1038/s41586-021-04363-9. ISSN 0028-0836. PMID 35296847. S2CID 247499662.