Mark Crosby (crosby_m@rocketmail.com)
Tue, 29 Jul 1997 10:59:29 -0700 (PDT)

"A swarm of suveillance mites slowly descends from the sky ... they
assemble and process the information into a detailed picture of the
state of the atmosphere".

So begins Ivars Peterson's story in the July 26, 1997 issue of SCIENCE
NEWS called "From Microdevice to Smart Dust: Learning to Build,
Program, and Control Multitudes of Interacting Micromachines".

The article is based primarily on the work of Andrew Berlin at Xerox
PARC and Kaigham Gabriel of DARPA reported in the Jan-Mar 97 IEEE
COMPUTATIONAL SCIENCE & ENGINEERING, but Peterson adds some additional

"the technology necessary for constructing a 'smart dust particle' may
be within reach in 5 years, says Berlin."

"By merging sensing and actuation with computation and communication,
MEMS [microelectriomechanical systems] devices can be distributed
throughout the environment, coated on surfaces, or embedded within
everyday objects to create distributed systems for sensing, reasoning
about, and responding to events in the physical world on a scale never
before possible", wrote Berlin & Gabriel in their IEEE article.

Peterson mentions "one potential application is a paper mover" and
micromanipulation assembly lines for electronics and biological

"At Stanford University, Gregory T.A. Kovacs and John W. Suh have
fabricated cilliary arrays in which each microscopic actuator looks
like the tail of a fish.... Four actuators, arranged in a cross with
tails pointing away from the center, work together a a unit, or motion

"Donald and Karl F. Bohringer ofd the University of Calif., Berkeley
have developed what they call the theory of programmable force fields
to model the actions of cilliary arrays.... Peter Will and his
colleagues at the Information Sciences Institute of [UCLA] have
adopted a similar approach....

"'How do you program a cloud of dust?' Berlin asks. Should all the
smart dust particles run the same program, or should they specialize?
How do units synchronize their activities when they are in motion
relative to each other and spread over large distances? How can
communication be established and maintained in such a system? How can
it build a global view of a situation using many small pieces of
information that are gathered in different places at different times.
'There are alot of hard problems here', Berlin says."

IMO, these are many of the same hard problems that must be solved for
AI and nanotechnology. MEMS seem to be a practical, near-term test bed
for experimenting on some of these problems.

Mark Crosby

Sent by RocketMail. Get your free e-mail at http://www.rocketmail.com