Sparks Tech Talk: Smart Dust

Smart Dust: the future of the IoT, or still science fiction?

In 1964 Polish author Stanislaw Lem wrote a novel called The Invincible. The story centers on the discovery of microscopic robots that have evolved to form a collective entity that has become entwined with the biosphere of the planet. This far-reaching image is said by many to be the first conception of what has more recently been dubbed “Smart Dust.”

Smart Dust as conceived in the 1990's is an extension of swarming, sensing robotics to the nanotechnological level. At that time, The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the Research And Development Corporation (RAND) were investigating the technology for reconnaissance applications is areas hostile to human soldiers. Despite its military origins, the technology has potential applications in a variety of civilian and commercial areas: crop dust that monitors soil and other conditions, dust in cities that measure environmental changes over time, dust in our clothes and bodies sending biometric data, etc.

If this seems similar to the promises of the Internet of Things, you are not alone. Many perceive Smart Dust as the logical next step to the IoT once the miniaturization of CPU capability becomes sufficient. An example of this potential can be found in Hitachi's Smart Tag technology. Developed in 2007, the microscopic chips are functional RFID tags that have a 128b ROM capacity with a form factor of 0.15 x 0.15mm with a height of 75µm - smaller than a grain of salt. Sensors like these, combined with microscopic CPUs can form wirelessly connected sensing and computing networks that can instantly adapt to changes over vast areas.

It may seem far-fetched, but there is serious speculation on the real possibilities of Smart Dust on the technological horizon. Gartner Inc., a respected global technological innovation research company, has included Smart Dust on its 2015 hype cycle chart of emerging technologies. Its placement indicates that we have at least a 10-year wait before the technology becomes viable. That said, if they are as accurate about Smart Dust as they were about the resurgence of VR, by 2026 you may be giving yourself a refreshing sprinkle of nanobots before your morning run.

Posted by Jamie Barlow | Request as a Speaker

Devoted creative servant and quiet sage of technology. Inspired by nature and motivated by mediocrity. Digital team lead @sparksmarketing.