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After Smartphones, Smart TVs, Smart Cars…is it now time for Smart Dust? Well, according to a few tech experts, the future of the Internet of Things most certainly does belong to Smart Dust. So, what exactly is the Smart Dust and how can it affect the IoT, let’s find out.

What is Smart Dust?

To put it simply, made of microscopic sensors, Smart Dust is capable of floating in the air and take some basic measurements and then successfully send the data back to a computer.

Based on micro-electromechanical systems that are only a few millimeters wide, Smart Dust can successfully take measurements like humidity, temperature, magnetism, chemical components, vibration and so on. The sensors communicate in radio frequencies like 6LoWPAN and 802.15.4e, are ultra low power and are being managed by a bare bones OS such as the TinyOS.

Smart Dust isn’t a new concept that has been hurled on us by the year 2016. Actually, the research on Smart Dust began almost two decades ago in the early 1990s as studies done by DARPA and RAND. Apparently a research proposal on Smart Dust was presented to DARPA in the year 1997 by a group of young scientists fresh out of University of California, Berkeley. The proposal was finally approved for funding in the year 1998. Kris Pister, who was one of those esteemed scientist on the group, went ahead and founded Dust Networks in the year 2004, which was eventually acquired in the year 2011 by Linear Technology.

Some technology experts are seeing so much potential in Smart Dust that they have declared it as an important part of Internet of Things future.

According to Ganesh Ramamoorthy, a Gartner analyst, “Given its wide range of potential applications and benefits, this technology will, we believe, have a transformative effect on all areas of business and on people’s lives in general.” He wrote the same in this years Gartner Hype Cycle Report for Emerging Technologies.

Till now, scientists have been successful in making Smart Dust motes at the millimeter level, but seeing the progress that is being made in the field of miniaturization, there is a hope that scientists will soon be able to create sensors and communication capabilities that will be able to take the Smart Dust motes further down to the micrometer level.

Currently, a good number of organisations and companies are working meticulously on researching on Smart Dust and the potential it holds. Dust Networks is building sensor motes capable of functioning as a mesh network of communicating sensors. To make things clearer, it isn’t exactly “dust” we’re talking about, but the beckoning of an arena of miniature sensors that could end up revolutionising industrial and agricultural systems, maybe forever.

The University of California, Berkeley has in fact taken its work on Smart Dust to a new level and helped create a TinyOS, an OS quite similar to Arduino but comes with low-power consumption.

Smart Dust even found its way in to Gartner’s Hype Cycle in 2013 and termed it as an “embryonic” technology that is still “more than 10 years” away.

Smart Dust and its potential uses

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Experts believe that every trend employed in making communication devices, sensors and power sources more powerful, smaller and more reliable could potentially result in the creation of dust mesh networks that would then be capable of being deployed anywhere in the world.

For starters, Smart Dust will, in probability, find itself being deployed in agricultural and industrial sectors.

In the recent past, the idea of one big “Internet of Things” has started to tremble. On one Side there is commercial Internet of Things landscape that includes televisions, cars, homes, appliances—and on the other side there’s the “Industrial” IoT that includes the likes of infrastructure, transportation, manufacturing etc. Names like Hitachi, General Electric, IBM etc. have started to takeover the field.

In all probability, Smart Dust can be expected to make its first appeal in later vision of Internet of Things. Smart Dust with its continuous streams of real-time and accurate data can prove to be extremely transformational in monitoring and controlling several environments such as manufacturing plants, agricultural fields, warehouses, greenhouses and transportation systems.

The basic premise of Smart Dust is to provide supreme knowledge of just about everything that is currently happening in the world. Some people are hopeful that Smart Dust can be used to monitor neighborhoods, explore the terrain of whole new planets, predict the weather and even calculate ozone fluctuations etc.

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