Smart Dust: The Technology That can Monitor Anyone, Anywhere, at any Time

Article By Sterlingbh

  • The Smart Dust research proposal was presented to DARPA in 1997 by Kristofer S. J. Pister, Joe Kahn, and Bernhard Boser, from the University of California, Berkeley.
  • General Electric, Cargill, IBM, Cisco Systems and other notable companies have invested heavily in the research of Smart Dust.
  • Smart Dust has the potential to be used in a wide variety of sectors including healthcare, agriculture, biotechnology, manufacturing and warfare. 
  • Smart Dust technology has been around for roughly 19 years, without ever being available to the general public.

If there is one thing everyone can agree on, it’s that we are all entitled to a reasonable amount of personal privacy. In fact, personal privacy seems to be more and more relevant in this era of rapid technological advancement. Accordingly, skepticism is warranted whenever a technology has the potential to undermine your right to privacy. And, you guessed it. That’s where Smart Dust comes into play.

Smart Dust is exactly what it sounds like. They are tiny little sensors, that are capable of conducting surveillance/collecting data and tracking it’s own location in real time. On average, these Smart Dust sensors are about the size of a grain of table salt (0.3 mm x 0.3 mm).

The idea was first conceptualized in the early 90’s by DARPA and The RAND Corporation (both of which are federally funded). From there, the concept seemed to be largely forgotten about, until three professors from the University Of California, Berkeley began looking more into potential uses of the technology. They made a research proposal that was ultimately approved for federal funding.

With the newfound interest of the United States Military, prototypes were made, and the first real life application was tested in 2001. In this test, they had used enlarged Smart Dust sensors to accurately determine the speed and direction of 142 different military vehicles.

In the years following, several different companies took interest in the technology. And as a result, some of the more recent advancements can be attributed to the private sector.

Currently, it would appear that no company or governmental agency is publicly developing research on the technology. This has led many people to speculate, that Smart Dust technology is far more advanced than what we are being told. Either way, any technology that yields this amount of potential for trouble, should be matched equally with extreme caution. If we fail to do so, we will find ourselves in a dystopian, cyberpunk-eque world. A world, where everyone and everything will be monitored through a global, neural network of billions of Smart Dust Particles.

But don’t take my word for it…

“Central Nervous System for the Earth”

(CeNSE), a project of HP Labs, is revolutionizing the way information is gathered, communicated, and analyzed. CeNSE consists of a highly intelligent network of billions of nanoscale sensors designed to feel, taste, smell, see, and hear what is going on in the world. When fully deployed, these sensors will quickly gather data and transmit it to powerful computing engines, which will analyze and act upon the information in real time using a new breed of business applications and web services…..”

……That’s the goal of HP Labs Central Nervous System for the Earth, or CeNSE. The research and development program aims to build a planetwide sensing network using billions of tiny, cheap, tough and exquisitely sensitive detectors.”

                                                                             – Hewlett Packard, 2010