At A Glance – Smart Dust

Tiny sensors are the future of nanotechnology

Smart dust refers to a collection of tiny wireless microelectromechanical sensors (MEMS). These sensors are able to detect conditions such as light, vibration, temperature and noise, and autonomously communicate this information back to a receiver. As their name suggests, individual smart dust motes measure only a few millimetres in size. They are therefore an exciting combination of electronics and nanotechnology.

The concept of smart dust could have come straight from a science fiction novel. It was conceived in the 1990s by a US military defence research project, as a detection strategy on the battlefield. It was imagined that smart dust motes could provide real time information on their environment in a battle situation. Due to their miniscule size, they would be almost impossible for an enemy to detect, either scattered on the ground or travelling freely through the air with the wind.

Whilst smart dust is not yet an operational technology, steps are constantly being made towards its realisation. In 2016, researchers at the University of Stuttgart created camera lenses the size of a grain of salt, which are capable of taking high quality images. TinyOS is a software operating platform expressly designed for use in smart dust components. Soon we could see smart dust being used to monitor agriculture, industrial manufacturing, and even workers in an office. That is, if it is possible to actually see smart dust particles at all. . .

Want to understand more of technology’s new terms? Sign up to our free weekly newsletter.