The year is 2040. A group of commandos are performing operation ‘Rage’ with a mission to flush out hidden packets of bio-weapons and decimate terrorists girded with artillery from the city. Drones hovering for surveillance overhead are not offering enough help. Major of the army decides to release Smart Dust, the ultra-miniature spy-circuits that float in the air to track enemy movements. These ubiquitous bio-metric indicators smartly transmit the enemy information to commandos’ HUD displays. The readings are – ‘a man found at the next corner loaded with weapons’ and ‘found a packet of resistance near a water tank’. Now, the army of commandos all charged up proceeds to take action.

The tale above was a scientific fiction but Smart Dust is not. In the next 20 years, the omnipresent network of microscopic operating systems will take over the Internet of Things.

What is Smart Dust?

An innovation by nanotechnology, Smart Dust is micro-electro-mechanical sensors (MEMS) with the power to collect, record and report data in real time, sense the environment like vibrations, pressure, humidity, sound, stress, temperature etc., communicate wirelessly to the cloud and detect chemical composition of everything.

Uses of Smart Dust

  • Monitoring equipments in industries for enhanced safety, maintenance and productivity
  • Detecting the need of crops for better management of fertilization in agriculture
  • Detecting manual errors and product aging like pipe corrosion in factories
  • Monitoring and tracking enemy for enhanced security by military
  • Enhancing diagnostic procedures in healthcare industry

Can Smart Dust Monitor the Human Brain?

If Smart Dust can quantify the entire world then why not the brain! Futurists believe that Smart Dust is way more effective to monitor and stimulate neural signals than brain implants. The Neural dust can be implemented within the dura without the need of surgery and risk of infection. Excitingly, this neural dust can be sprinkled to the cortex to interact with the brain remotely via ultrasound. Looks like a better version of Brain Interface! Smart Dust is a revolutionary medical aid to allow handicaps or people with brain disorders to control machines by using their thoughts alone.

Smart Dust – Challenges And Concerns

Along with all magical benefits Smart Dust has come with, there are yet many major concerns currently restricting it’s usage for wide-scale adoption. Visibility is our best defense. People can be spied on without their approval which will greatly hamper their privacy. Next is, what if cyber thieves steal or modify confidential information by hacking the systems? Also, it will be extremely difficult to retrieve these tiny nano-chips once deployed. What if we inhale them? Are they environmentally-friendly?

This technology has still to evolve and overcome the following limitations:

  • The device only works under data-satisfying conditions.
  • As sensors rely on battery power, the availability of energy is limited.
  • The network of sensors lacks a framework which disturbs them to route.
  • They are not ideal for unusual topology as nodes don’t follow standard rules.
  • Unique addressing is presumably not feasible as there are no global identifiers.

Smart Dust – Friend or Foe?

Great is the power of Smart Dust. Smart Dust is an invisible eye from which nothing can be hidden. What’s more super-heroic than to catch a hooligan, killer or thief before they succeed in their evil plan! The potential technology can unleash new possibilities in medical discoveries and inventions. If implemented in mobiles, Smart Dust can completely remodel business processes for the future. Technology has traveled with a supersonic speed, however, it should not stop us to think critically to evaluate both sides of it. Smart Dust or Smart Deception? By gaining control over the environment as well as mind, will Smart Dust lead to technological possession of humanity? The synthetic network of nanobots will only be good if used for good. Though technology has empowered us, it should not enslave us. Smart Dust is dramatically disruptive. Hope it’s not a threat but if it commits to stay as a friend, it will be really thrilling to see what it can and will do at maturity!