Smartdust is a system of many tiny microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) such as sensors, robots, or other devices, that can detect, for example, light, temperature, vibration, magnetism, or chemicals. They are usually operated on a computer network wirelessly and are distributed over some area to perform tasks, usually sensing through radio-frequency identification. Without an antenna of much greater size the range of tiny smart dust communication devices is measured in a few millimeters and they may be vulnerable to electromagnetic disablement and destruction by microwave exposure.
The concepts for Smart Dust emerged from a workshop at RAND in 1992 and a series of DARPA ISAT studies in the mid-1990s due to the potential military applications of the technology. The work was strongly influenced by work at UCLA and the University of Michigan during that period, as well as science fiction authors Stanislaw Lem (in novels The Invincible in 1964 and Peace on Earth in 1985), Neal Stephenson and Vernor Vinge. The first public presentation of the concept by that name was at the American Vacuum Society meeting in Anaheim in 1996.
A Smart Dust research proposal was presented to DARPA written by Kristofer S. J. Pister, Joe Kahn, and Bernhard Boser, all from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1997. The proposal, to build wireless sensor nodes with a volume of one cubic millimeter, was selected for funding in 1998. The project led to a working mote smaller than a grain of rice, and larger "COTS Dust" devices kicked off the TinyOS effort at Berkeley.
The concept was later expanded upon by Kris Pister in 2001. A recent review discusses various techniques to take smartdust in sensor networks beyond millimeter dimensions to the micrometre level.
The Ultra-Fast Systems component of the Nanoelectronics Research Centre at the University of Glasgow is a founding member of a large international consortium which is developing a related concept: smart specks.
Smart Dust entered the Gartner Hype Cycle on Emerging Technologies in 2003, and returned in 2013 as the most speculative entrant.
In 2022, a Nature paper written by Shyamnath Gollakota, Vikram Iyer, Hans Gaensbauer and Thomas Daniel, all from the University of Washington, presented tiny light-weight programmable battery-free wireless sensors that can be dispersed in the wind. These devices were inspired by Dandelion seeds that can travel as far as a kilometer in dry, windy, and warm conditions.
Dust Networks started a project exploring the application of Smartdust, which included:
((cite journal)): Cite journal requires