NEWS: Smart dust (How does Vinge do it?)

Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Wed, 25 Aug 1999 19:34:27 -0500

> Beware swarms of 'smart dust'
> CLEANLINESS freaks have a new rationale for their
> pathological hatred of dust-it could soon be spying on them.
> Packed full of sensors, lasers and communications
> transceivers, particles of "smart dust" are being designed to
> communicate with one another. They could be used for a
> range of applications from weather monitoring to spying.
> The tiny "motes" are being developed at the University of
> California, Berkeley, as part of a programme to produce the
> smallest possible devices that have a viable way of
> communicating with each other.
> Each mote is made up of a number of microelectromechanical
> systems, or MEMS, wired up to form a very simple computer.
> At present each mote is 5 millimetres long, but Kris Pister,
> one of the developers, says that in future they could be
> small enough to remain suspended in air, buoyed by the
> currents, sensing and communicating for hours.
> The latest version not only has a thick-film battery
> powering it but also a solar cell to recharge it. "This
> remarkable package has the ability to sense and
> communicate, and is self-powered," says Randy Katz, a
> communications engineer on the project. He presented the
> latest work at last week's Mobicom99 mobile computing
> meeting in Seattle.
> MEMS are made using the same photolithographic techniques
> as integrated circuits, so once perfected they should be easy
> to mass-produce. Patterns are etched out of a silicon wafer
> to create structures such as optical mirrors or tiny engines.
> Each mote in a smart-dust system will need to survive on
> extremely low power, while being able to communicate
> kilobits of data per second. To this end, says Katz, the team
> has designed motes that shut down parts of themselves
> when they are not being used.
> The latest challenge has been to devise a system that
> enables the motes to communicate. Katz and his colleagues
> decided to use optical transceivers because of their low
> energy demand compared with radio communications.
> According to Pister they have already shown that they can
> monitor the dust 21 kilometres across San Francisco Bay.
> "There's no way you're going to get that kind of range except
> with optical devices," he says.
> "The base station may actually reside in a hand-held unit,
> much like a pair of binoculars," says Katz. This would allow
> for simultaneous viewing of the scene from afar while
> superimposing any measured data on the image. He adds that
> this approach could be especially useful for hazardous
> applications such as detecting chemical weapons or sending
> the dust into space.
> The next task is to build distributed intelligence into the
> dust to produce "swarm behaviour".
> ###
> Author: Duncan Graham-Rowe
> New Scientist issue 28th August 99
> Back to EurekAlert!

Why, look. It's the locators from Vernor Vinge's _A Deepness in the Sky_. *How* does he do it? How? How?

All I can say is that he better not be that accurate about ubiquitous you-know-what... frankly, I thought that even talking about it was a bad idea.

           Eliezer S. Yudkowsky
Running on BeOS           Typing in Dvorak          Programming with Patterns
Voting for Libertarians   Heading for Singularity   There Is A Better Way