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Concept.png Smartdust 
(medical concept,  surveillance technology)Rdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
Rfid hitachi.jpg
Hitachi smartdust from 2001, compared to a strand of human hair
Novel technology with high surveillance potential; even as type of brain–computer interface both reading and writing.

Smartdust[1] 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.

Because of the micro size, smart dust can be suspended in any environment to monitor or collect data without altering or disturbing the real process at all[2]. They are very difficult to detect, and once deployed, it is even more difficult to get rid of them. These particles are so tiny and light that they can remain suspended in the air like ordinary dust particles. They can also be swept away or displaced by air currents.[3]

Smart dust can also be inserted into the body or the brain, a research area of high military interest, where they could function as a type of brain–computer interface, both reading and writing.


Winged microchip is smallest-ever human-made flying structure

The tiny smart dust communication devices generally range from 20 micrometers up to a millimeter in size. They are usually connected to a computer network wirelessly and are distributed over a specific area to accomplish tasks, usually sensing through RFID (radio-frequency identification) technology. [4] The system may be vulnerable to electromagnetic disablement and destruction by microwave exposure.

A cloud of smartdust could be distributed via tiny, unmanned aircraft that would serve as crop dusters of sorts. Without being detected, they’d spray the virtually invisible motes over a large area and collect information that way.[5]

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.[6] The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency began funding aspects of this work at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1998.[7]

Smart dust is highly applicable for security & surveillance purposes, even for big areas[2].

Neural dust

Neural dust is a term used to refer to millimeter-sized devices operated as wirelessly powered nerve sensors; it is a type of brain–computer interface. The sensors may be used to study, monitor, or control the nerves and muscles and to remotely monitor neural activity. For example, a medical treatment could introduce thousands of neural dust devices into human brains.

2016:New “Neural Dust” sensor could be implanted in the body

In 2016, researchers at Berkeley Engineering believed they had found a new way to overcome the hurdle of how to best implant sensors that can remain over the course of one’s life, even though they cautioned the method was not yet workable:

A network of tiny implantable sensors could function like an MRI inside the brain, recording data on nearby neurons and transmitting it back out. The smart dust particles would all contain an extremely small CMOS sensor capable of measuring electrical activity in nearby neurons. The researchers envision a piezoelectric material backing the CMOS capable of generating electrical signals from ultrasound waves. The process would also work in reverse, allowing the dust to beam data back via high-frequency sound waves. The neural dust would also be coated with polymer. [8]

The military research agency DARPA has also showed interest in the area. As the MIT Technology Review wrote:

Their idea is to sprinkle electronic sensors the size of dust particles into the cortex and to interrogate them remotely using ultrasound. The ultrasound also powers this so-called neural dust....Each particle of neural dust consists of standard CMOS circuits and sensors that measure the electrical activity in neurons nearby...The neural dust is interrogated by another component placed beneath the scale but powered from outside the body. This generates the ultrasound that powers the neural dust and sensors that listen out for their response, rather like an RFID system. The system is also tetherless–the data is collected and stored outside the body for later analysis.[9]

Doug Weber, the DARPA program manager for ElectRx, explained how it worked: “The soft tissues of our body consist mostly of saltwater. Sound waves pass freely through these tissues and can be focused with pinpoint accuracy at nerve targets deep inside our body, while radio waves cannot. Indeed, this is why sonar is used to image objects in the ocean, while radar is used to detect objects in the air. By using ultrasound to communicate with the neural dust, the sensors can be made smaller and placed deeper inside the body, by needle injection or other non-surgical approaches.”[10]