Definition of smart dust

Smart dust constitutes an arrangement of various tiny microelectromechanical systems like sensors, robots, or other devices that have the ability to detect light, temperature, chemicals, vibration, magnetism and other stimuli.

Historical background

Back in 1965, Gordon Moore, who was the founder of Intel, made a prediction that the number of components that could fit on a single chip could double every two years. This prediction, surviving the test of time, transformed itself into Moore’s Law and is leading to a greater interest in the miniaturization of technology. This is transforming various industries dramatically to date. A direct result of this trend of miniaturization is the advent of smart dust technology. In the year 1992, the concept of smart dust had taken shape from a workshop at the Research and Development Corporation (RAND) and this concept was utilized in a number of studies in the mid of 1990s.
One of the most important studies on smart dust technology was conducted in the year 1997 in the form of a research proposal formulated by Dr. Kristofer Pister, Joe Kahn and Bernhard Bose of Berkeley. Due to potential military applications of the technology that sought to deploy rapidly defense networks onto the battlefield, Dr. Pister was recognized as the inventor of smart dust technology.

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Properties of smart dust

Smart dust has evolved over time and presently such kind of devices are smaller than the eye of a needle and the incredible part is that such minuscule devices have the ability to collect data and send it back for processing. This smart dust consists of a set of microelectromechanical systems (MEMS), also known as motes that are capable of detecting vibrations and temperature. They have autonomous power supply and can compute and communicate in a space consisting of just a few millimeters in volume.
Due to their size, smart dust can be suspended in the environment and can be 3D printed. The data communicated by smart dust can be processed by an onboard computer, and can also be stored and transmitted to the cloud or other MEMS.

Applications of smart dust

Besides military applications, smart dust has many other exciting and wide-ranging applications. The main property of smart dust is that it can collect information about any environment in which it is suspended in great detail. Hence, it has applications in the IoT, where this micro-IoT can be used by various industries to obtain streamlined data for improving their productivity and other parameters.
Smart dust can also be used to track products in supply chains in a detailed manner and also for the monitoring of crops on a micro level, and such kind of enormous data generated can benefit agricultural practices greatly. Smart dust has exciting applications in the healthcare arena as well. It can help the diagnostic procedures and make the entire treatment less invasive and also provide new opportunities for disabled patients with more intuitive interfaces. Smart dust can also be implanted into tumors to monitor the effectiveness of the treatment they are receiving. Going one step further, in a not so distant future, smart dust could also become a source of treatment by emitting certain hormones or medications.
In addition, smart dust can be deployed over a region for recording meteorological and geophysical data and even may be used in planetary research. Smart dust is particularly useful in kind of environments where wired sensors cannot be used or lead to errors.
Emerging technologies like smart dust are realigning the future and help us realize our true potential. Various emerging technologies are stretching the boundaries of imagination and are radically transforming the way we conduct business.

How will smart dust obtain power for operating?

With the advances in the electronics sector, it is hoped that smart dust will be able to power itself in the future. Compared to early computers, the energy efficiency of microelectronics has improved manifold. With the aid of passive power generation techniques like vibration harvesters that have been miniaturized, such kind of devices is well suited to power smart dust.

Implications of smart dust technology

Since smart dust technology is still emerging, the cost of implementing this technology is prohibitively high currently. To add to it, smart dust technology requires satellites and other high-end systems to operate, and this adds to the cost. Till the costs of smart dust technology are lowered, the scope of application of smart dust will be limited.
There are many implications of smart dust technology that need consideration before it is implemented. The first and foremost concern is regarding privacy. As mentioned earlier, smart dust is just a bundle of sensors that possess the capability of detecting anything. And as smart dust is invisible to the naked eye, it has the capability of invading the privacy of people in multiple ways. Thus, as with any technology, smart dust is a double-edged sword, and if it gets into wrong hands and being controlled by people with nefarious designs, it can create immense problems. Besides, questions are being raised over the containment of smart dust in case circumstances arise in which it needs to be contained or neutralized. Since the number of smart dust particles can be huge, it would be next to impossible to contain it, and this may lead to health, security and environmental concerns.

Evolution of smart dust technology

While the applications and the technologies related to smart dust are still emerging, giant strides are being taken to make smart dust a reality. In the year 2016, researchers at the University of Stuttgart have created camera lenses comparable to the size of a grain of salt and such minuscule lenses are able to take high-quality images. Even the operating systems specially designed for smart dust components are being designed. However, as per the global research and advisory firm Gartner, we are still a decade away for smart dust technologies to achieve mainstream use.


Smart dust technology has the potential of revolutionizing the IoT and can become the central nervous system of our planet. This technology has the capabilities of completely reinventing the way our world works and if the concerns regarding this technology are adequately addressed, it can become the harbinger of a better world.

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