What in the world is smart dust?
It sounds like something lifted straight from the pages of hard science fiction or the world of fictional superspies: a linked network of millions of tiny intelligent devices, each no more than the size of a grain of rice, communicating with each other as they continually monitor their surroundings and stream out data on chemistry, air or water pressure, vibration, temperature, light and more.
The man who coined the term, Kris Pister, told IDG Connect last April that the name "…was kind of a joke - everything in the US and LA at that time seemed to be 'smart', smart bombs, smart houses, smart roads…" His recollection can be counted on, since he co-authored the paper "Smart Dust: Autonomous sensing and communication in a cubic millimeter" back in 1997, when the technology was still in its infancy. He was also one of the first researchers to develop functional prototypes of the technology.
Fast forward twenty years since that curious name came to be; now over a dozen leading companies in the US and abroad, not to mention numerous research labs and institutions, are quietly working to harness the power of Bluteooth® 5.0, 5G wireless connectivity and related technologies to make the next industrial revolution, with smart dust at its core, a reality.
So once again, what exactly is smart dust, and what are its potential applications and benefits? According to the Engineering and Technology website,
Smart dust will enable the wireless, real-time collection of data via miniaturized low-power sensors, transforming our understanding of structures, systems and the environment. An evolution of wireless sensor networks, the advent of smart dust will see the distribution of billions or trillions of devices, each capable of transmitting specific feedback including data on vibrations, sound, temperature, pressure or chemistry. Powered by battery or kinetic energy and measuring just one cubic millimetre, smart dust could be deployed across vast or hard-to-reach areas.
Fast Company tells us to "Forget the Internet of Things. The Future is Smart Dust," and poses these questions: "Why even bother attaching sensors to actual things? What if they just floated all around us in the air and everywhere?"
Is this mere hype, or is there substance behind the claim that smart dust could really help usher in the Industrial Revolution, version 4.0?
In truth, the potential for smart dust applications is nearly infinite. For example, it could enable continuous real-time monitoring of new or existing structures such as skyscrapers or bridges to assess their condition and potentially extend their lifespan. Environmental monitoring could become much more precise through large-scale, detailed measurements of air or water quality. And wireless miniature seismometers could give advanced warning of volcanic eruptions or earthquakes, while similar water-borne devices could do the same for tsunami warnings.
But these are just a few of the hundreds of potential applications being considered and tested in labs around the world that could revolutionize our lives. Are you interested in the topic of smart dust and itching to learn more? If so, may we suggest the following additional reading:
Engineering and Technology: "20 technologies to change the world" https://eandt.theiet.org/content/articles/2017/09/20-technologies-to-change-the-world/
Fast Company: "Forget The Internet Of Things. The Future Is Smart Dust" https://www.fastcompany.com/3022114/forget-the-internet-of-things-the-future-is-smart-dust
IDG Connect: "Smart Dust: A revolution that’s blowing in the wind?" http://www.idgconnect.com/abstract/25810/smart-dust-a-revolution-blowing-wind
Internet of Business: "Future of IoT will be 'smart dust', says Cambridge Consultants" https://internetofbusiness.com/future-of-iot-will-be-smart-dust-says-cambridge-consultants/
As a company with a long history of involvement and innovation in embedded and Internet of Things (IoT) technologies, like our cloud-based vivIoT™ IoT Firmware Development Environment, American Megatrends is monitoring developments in the emerging world of smart dust very closely and excited to be a part of its promising future.
Thanks for reading today’s Tech Blog! Do you have any thoughts on the potential of smart dust as a disruptive technology? Feel free to drop us a line via social media or our Contact Us form and let us know – and what you might like to see in future posts!
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