Autonomous sensing and communication in a cubic millimeter

PI: Kris Pister
Co-investigators: Joe Kahn, Bernhard Boser
Subcontract: Steve Morris, MLB Co.

Supported by the DARPA/MTO MEMS program

This project finished in 2001, but many additional projects have grown out of it.  Among these are If you are interested in commercial applications, you should check out Crossbow Technologies and Dust Networks. (N.b. I have a financial interest in both!)

Quick progress update. Another update.
29 Palms demo of air-emplaced 1" scale motes detecting vehicles.
Latest photos and press coverage.
My view of sensor networks in 2010.

The two figures above represent where we are and where we'd like to be.
On the left is where we hope to be in July of '01 - a cubic millimeter device with a sensor, power supply, analog circuitry, bidirectional optical communication, and a programmable microprocessor.  Click on the figure to get more detail.
On the right is where we are now (July '99) - a (currently) non-functional mote with a volume of about 100 cubic millimeters.  There are two silicon chips sitting on a type-5 hearing aid battery.  The right chip is a MEMS corner cube optical transmitter array - it works.  On the right is a CMOS ASIC with an optical receiver, charge pump, and simple digital controller - it doesn't work (we violated some of the design rules in the 0.25 micron process, but the next one should work).



The science/engineering goal of the Smart Dust project is to demonstrate that a complete sensor/communication system can be integrated into a cubic millimeter package.  This involves both evolutionary and revolutionary advances in miniaturization, integration, and energy management.  We aren't targeting any particular sensor, in fact there is no direct funding for sensor research in the project (but we've got quite a few to choose from based on a decade or two of outstanding MEMS work at Berkeley and elsewhere).
We're funded by DARPA, so we will demonstrate Smart Dust with one or more applications of military relevance.  In addition, we're pursuing several different applications with commercial importance, and we've got a long list of applications to work on if we only had the time.  Here's a sampling of some possible applications, in no particular order:

Environmental Impact
A lot of people seem to be worried about environmental impact.  Not to worry!  Even in my wildest imagination I don't think that we'll ever produce enough Smart Dust to bother anyone.  If Intel stopped producing Pentia and produced only Smart Dust, and you spread them evenly around the country, you'd get around one grain-of-sand sized mote per acre per year.  If by ill chance you did inhale one, it would be just like inhaling a gnat.  You'd cough it up post-haste. Unpleasant, but not very likely.
Consider the scale - if I make a million dust motes, they have a total volume of one liter.  Throwing a liter worth of batteries into the environment is certainly not going to help it, but in the big picture it probably doesn't make it very high on the list of bad things to do to the planet.




The early work on corner cubes at UCLA:

Dust People

Corny dust photo
Mobile dust animation