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 can be described as ‘microscopic sensor devices’. These very small sensors can be distributed like dust in the air and detect and manage physical data (temperature, humidity, acceleration, pressure etc.) over a wireless network. In order for these dust particle-sized sensors to operate they must have microscopic batteries that can last for several years. Methods for efficiently minimizing energy used for data transmission are being researched and development is being done to find ways to generate energy through solar heat, microscopic fuel cells and motion.
Background of The Emergence of Smart Dust
Smart dust emerged on the scene primarily due to military research. These days, the militaries are using surveillance devices such as UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) and satellites to understand what their ‘enemies’ are doing. Since it is imperative to keep the surveillance devices from being detected by the enemy, collection of real time data has limits.
Thus, Smart dust emerged as a technology that could overcome these limits. 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.
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.
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.
Smart dust is particularly useful in protecting crops from cold weather damage by collecting data on the soil in real-time. If smart dust is placed in the soil where crops are growing, the crops can be monitored remotely.
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.
Aside from the examples discussed above, there is an endless list of applications for smart dust. This technology is now being used in diverse ways on its own, but in the future, there will be even more applications for the technology when it is combined with other technologies.
Users of the closely connected smart dust network will also be able to collect and conduct more precise analysis of personal information. In this way, products and services are likely to emerge that can be customized to provide individuals with a more specialized experience.
We have now defined what smart dust is, discussed its background, looked at some examples of how it is being implemented and summarized how it will relevant in the future. 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.
Of course, there is always the potential for this technology to be abused and used to expose harmful information. I look forward to smart dust being further developed and being able to use the technology with fortified information security.
Written by Yongjun Park, University reporter for LG CNS