Smart Dust is Coming. Are you ready?

Imagine a world in which wireless devices are smaller than a grain salt. These miniature devices are equipped with cameras, sensors, and communication mechanisms that transmit data back to a base to aid in processing. Today, you no longer have to imagine it: microelectromechanical systems (MEMS), often called motes, are real and they very well could be coming to a neighborhood near you. It doesn’t matter if this fact excites you or makes you fearful, it’s important to understand what it all means.

What smart dust can do?

MEMS are equipped with tiny sensors that can detect light, vibrations, temperature and more. MEMS packs an amazing amount of power into its tiny size. It can combine sensing and an autonomous power supply with computing and wireless communications in a space that is usually only a few millimeters wide. These devices are small enough to be suspended in an environment like a dust particle. They can:

  • Sensors can collect data such as acceleration, stress and pressure, humidity, sound, and other parameters.
  • The data will be processed with an onboard computer system
  • Keep the data safe in memory
  • Wirelessly transmit the data to the cloud, base or other MEMs

3D printing at the microscale

These devices can be 3D printed in one piece using a commercially available 3D printing machine. This allows for incredible complexity and eliminates any manufacturing limitations. These optical lenses can produce the highest quality images thanks to their miniaturized design.

Practical uses of smart dust

Smart dust’s ability to gather information in amazing detail about any environment could have a huge impact on many industries, including safety and compliance. It’s like multiplying Internet of Things technology millions, or even billions of times. These are just a few of the possible uses.

  • To monitor crops on a large scale, you can determine their watering, fertilization, and pest-control requirements.
  • To facilitate timely maintenance, monitor equipment.
  • Before a system fails, identify weaknesses and corrosion.
  • Wireless monitoring of products and people for security purposes.
  • Measure anything that can almost be measured anywhere.
  • MEMS can help you track your products from the manufacturing plant shelves to pallets to shipping containers to trucks to shelves.
  • There are many possible applications for healthcare, from diagnosing conditions without surgery to monitoring devices that assist people with disabilities with tools that allow them to live independently.
  • Researchers from UC Berkeley published a paper on neural dust, an implantable system that can be sprinkled onto the brain to give feedback about brain functionality.

The disadvantages of smart dust

Smart dust adoption on a large scale is not without its problems. These are some disadvantages to smart dust.

Privacy concerns

Smart dust is a controversial technology that can be used to record real-world data. Privacy concerns are a concern for many. Smart dust devices can record any information that is programmed. Because they are so small they can be difficult to detect. You can let your imagination run wild about the privacy implications if smart dust gets into the wrong hands.


It would be very difficult to capture or retrieve billions of smart dust devices once they are spread across an area. It would be difficult to detect their presence, given how small they are. It would be difficult for authorities to control the volume of smart dust that could have been used to harm a criminal, company, or government.


Like any new technology, it is expensive to put together a smart dust system. This includes satellites and the other elements needed for its full implementation. It will remain technology prohibitively expensive until costs drop.

How do you prepare?

Smart dust technology has been developed by entities since 1992. Large corporations like General Electric, Cargill and IBM have invested in smart dust research and viable applications. They believe that this technology will disrupt economies and the world.

Many smart dust applications are still in concept phase at the moment. Gartner actually listed smart dust technology in its Gartner Hype Cycle for the first time in 2016. Although the technology is showing some promise, there are still many issues to be resolved before it can have an impact on your business. It’s not science fiction, so it’s important that you pay attention to the technology’s growth trajectory. It’s not clear when it will reach widespread adoption. However, we do know that it is a matter of when.

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