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Smart Dust in 2012 Print
August 2012

Smart dust has been deployed in war zones but not publicly announced for civil use as of August 2012 due to privacy issues.  It is not a dust but a stone in terms of technology advancements.  It is the foundation stone for the Internet of things to come.

Maybe mote is a more comprehensible term than dust although it is not as catchy.  We will use these two terms interchangeably in this article.

A mote is an extremely small PC (personal computer) containing a CPU and memory but not for personal use. It also contains a tiny sensor which is in the category of micro-electro-mechanical (MEM) devices.  Most modern smart phones contain a MEM device to sense the orientation of the display screen so that images will always display in the correct orientation for human eyes no matter how we rotate the smart phone.

Suppose we have motes that sense and measure the density of salt level.  If we embed some of those motes in the concrete of a harbour bridge, we can drive a truck along the bridge to collect sensor readings of salt density in the concrete.  This information would allow us to determine the extent of exposure of the steel of the bridge to salt which is damaging to steel. 

Now let us add wireless communication capabilities to the mote.  This means the motes will be able to transit sensor information to other motes or to other signal reception devices in the vicinity. Zigbee is in fact a technology suitable for this sort of applications.  It has a low data transmission bandwidth and a reach of over 30 metres.  It is an IEEE 802.15 standard and is not something just dreamed up for this article. 

We believe motes have been deployed during wars in the new Millennium.  Those motes contain GPS (global positioning satellite) and vibration sensors.  When trucks drove over the motes, sensor signals would be transmitted among motes and they would eventually reach a human commander.  The commander would be able to tell the path of the truck in real time.

For civil use, the motes can be embedded in our water meter or power meter or on roads and motorways.  Utility companies can collect water or power consumption readings any time without much human effort.  Similarly, traffic conditions can be revealed readily and easily.  Applications are limited to our imagination only.

Start from the LHS: Slide 1 shows the spray of motes onto an area for surveillance purpose.  Slide 2 shows smart metering.  Slide 3 shows traffic conditions monitoring.

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