The development of the Internet of Things is nowhere near slowing down. Quite the opposite: by the end of this year, presumably 4.8 billion networked endpoints will be used in the enterprise segment and car industry. According to a forecast by Gartner, this figure will even rise to 5.8 billion by 2020 which is equivalent to an annual growth of 21 per cent.
Two forces are driving this development forward: speed and size. On the one hand, companies use an improved broadband connection to make real-time analysis and on-demand intelligence possible. In B2C as well as B2B, several use cases have already shown their potential. On the other hand, sensors – an essential component of the Internet of Things (IoT) – become smaller and smaller and more and more sophisticated.
In this context, Gartner states that companies will use physical space to interact with their customers through these tiny sensors. Smart Cars, Smart Cities, Industry 4.0 or Smart Farming are familiar terms surrounding a phenomenon that covers way more – for example the next stage of the IoT technology called »Smart Dust«, which currently attracts a lot of attention.
Internet of Things – What Exactly Is »Smart Dust«?
For decades, technology has followed the same pattern: with increasing speed and efficiency, costs and size decrease. The best example of this is the transformation of mainframes into laptops and smartphones. The same applies to sensors which are the core of Smart Dust.
This emerging, unknown technology, coined in 1997 by researcher Kristofer Pister, consists of a network of millimetre-sized »moths« or sensors which act as a wireless computer system. These moths – also called MEMS – are equipped with both mechanical and electrical components and can collect all types of data with the utmost accuracy: visual, thermal, chemical or biological.
According to Gartner, Smart Dust, which was already added to its Hyper Cycle of Emerging Trends in 2018, will »create transparency between people, companies and spaces« alongside other technologies. As the market research company’s forecast for 2019 shows, its further development will make it possible to pool more and more exact and sensitive data.
Internet of Things – Where Does the Potential of »Smart Dust« Lie?
The sensitivity of these electromechanical moths and their tiny size are their biggest advantages. For these reasons, sensors can detect subtle vibrations, temperatures or even the ambient air, which makes them ideal for highly sensitive applications. The Smart Dust technology is thus able to extend the scope of IoT.
The sectors which can benefit the most from this up-and-coming technology and use it first are, amongst others, industry, agriculture, construction, and medicine. It particularly revolves around the monitoring of machines in a factory, a plant, on a construction site, or in agriculture to work more efficiently. This detailed control could, for example, make it possible to systematically avoid system failures, carry out maintenance work in good time and increase safety.
MEMs could also improve inventory control to track products along the entire supply chain. Ultimately, Smart Dust has the potential to significantly improve medical treatments and health monitoring because these sensors act as microscopic eyes, ears and hands, permeate the depths of the human body and decode it this way.
Internet of Things – Which Obstacles Does »Smart Dust« Have To Overcome?
It is the first huge challenge to decrease the size of current devices to the size required by Smart Dust. Costs are a huge obstacle to acceptance as well, in particular when thinking big.
There are also two major moral predicaments to be resolved. It is yet to be determined whether a health risk exists, for example when inhaling the moths. The issue of protection against misuse has to be regulated as well, possibly by controlling the »moth traffic«.
At the moment, Smart Dust is still in the early stages of development. Nevertheless, there are already some start-ups such as Ambiq Micro, PsiKick or MEMSIC which delve into this concept in order to launch prototypes and first MVPs onto the market.