Dust gets smarter and smaller

June 6, 2003 — Smart dust, the brains behind wireless sensor networks that could monitor everything from the environment to enemy troops, is getting smarter, smaller and more energy efficient.

 Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, say they demonstrated a wireless device as small as glitter that transmitted radio signals for at least 40 feet. The device used a wireless chip with an integrated sensor and transmitter system. The chip is a component of what the researchers call “motes,” which can be programmed and networked to share, relay and even analyze information.


Transmitting data over short distances helps keep motes’ energy needs low and consequently reduces the size of accompanying energy sources. In recent tests at the Intel Research Laboratory, a team of engineers and computer scientists showed the device transmitted radio signals at 902 megahertz over 40 feet at 19200 kilobytes per second.


The team includes engineering Professor Kris Pister and computer sciences Professor David Culler. Pister’s group focuses on miniaturizing the hardware and Culler’s team designs the operating system that allows motes to communicate. They’ve named their latest generation of motes “Spec.”


Their goal is to create inexpensive, efficient sensor networks using motes as small as a grain of sand for applications that range from wildlife conservation research to military surveillance. Pister launched the startup Dust Inc. to commercialize the technology.


Pister is a technical adviser to Ardesta LLC, the parent company of Small Times Media.


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