July 09, 2004

Smart Dust

This article is reg. only from the June 10th Issue of the Economist, but I clipped some of the good stuff

Smart "Dust" ... featured in many SciFi yarns .. is comprised of tiny wireless sensors that act as "one" ... very cool
Jun 10th 2004

Sensor networks: They have generated a lot of hype. But might sensor networks, also known as "smart dust", actually be useful?

WITH everyone in the technology industry looking for the next big thing, some researchers are thinking small. There are the nanotechnologists, of course, and those trying to cram the power and versatility of a personal computer into a pocket-sized device. And then there are the proponents of sensor networks, a technology more
glamorously known as "smart dust". They believe that tiny devices, embedded in everyday objects or even just sprinkled on the ground, and talking to each other using wireless links, could have a range of military, commercial and even domestic uses. How does the reality compare with the hype?

The most ambitious experiment yet in this nascent field is currently plying the North Atlantic, in the form of the 885-foot oil tanker, LOCH RANNOCH. The ship, one of a fleet operated by BP, an energy company, has been outfitted with 160 sensors called "motes" that measure things like vibrations in the ship's pumps, compressors and engines and pass on their readings using wireless links. BP wants to see if the network can help to predict equipment failures. It also wants to test the robustness of sensor networks.
This next bit sounds more commerical...
Kris Pister, a leading researcher in the field and the founder of Dust Networks, a start-up based in Berkeley, says he was asked to evaluate the possibility of putting 50,000 motes in a new building, replacing the normal wired sensors for temperature control, power regulation, door opening and so on. But the limitations of existing sensor technology mean that such large networks are currently impossible: the largest network yet constructed was a mere 900 nodes, and it was dismantled after a weekend. That said, there may be a new record before the year's end: in December, researchers at Ohio University plan to demonstrate a 10,000-node sensor "fence" around ten square kilometers of corn fields, for the American military. But this is, again, a research project. Commercial applications are still in their infancy.
Like to see this presentation..
Hans Mulder, a researcher at Intel, the world's largest chipmaker, is going around making a presentation entitled "Sensor Networks: Are They for Real?" (His answer is, of course, yes.)
What a great way to keep track of my teenage daughters?