Smart Dust


Up Publications Smart Dust CMOS Accelerometer Press

The goal of the Smart Dust project is to build a self-contained, millimeter-scale sensing and communication platform for a massively distributed sensor network.  This device will be around the size of a grain of sand and will contain sensors, computational ability, bi-directional wireless communications, and a power supply, while being inexpensive enough to deploy by the hundreds.  The science and engineering goal of the project is to build a complete, complex system in a tiny volume using state-of-the art technologies (as opposed to futuristic technologies), which will require evolutionary and revolutionary advances in integration, miniaturization, and energy management.  We forsee many applications for this technology:

Weather/seismological monitoring on Mars

Internal spacecraft monitoring

Land/space comm. networks

Chemical/biological sensors

Weapons stockpile monitoring

Defense-related sensor networks

Inventory Control

Product quality monitoring

Smart office spaces

Sports - sailing, balls

For more information, see the main Smart Dust page at and read our publications (see navigation button above).

Brief description of the operation of the mote:

The Smart Dust mote is run by a microcontroller that not only determines the tasks performed by the mote, but controls power to the various components of the system to conserve energy. Periodically the microcontroller gets a reading from one of the sensors, which measure one of a number of physical or chemical stimuli such as temperature, ambient light, vibration, acceleration, or air pressure, processes the data, and stores it in memory. It also occasionally turns on the optical receiver to see if anyone is trying to communicate with it. This communication may include new programs or messages from other motes. In response to a message or upon its own initiative the microcontroller will use the corner cube retroreflector or laser to transmit sensor data or a message to a base station or another mote.

Longer description of the operation of the mote:

The primary constraint in the design of the Smart Dust motes is volume, which in turn puts a severe constraint on energy since we do not have much room for batteries or large solar cells. Thus, the motes must operate efficiently and conserve energy whenever possible. Most of the time, the majority of the mote is powered off with only a clock and a few timers running. When a timer expires, it powers up a part of the mote to carry out a job, then powers off. A few of the timers control the sensors that measure one of a number of physical or chemical stimuli such as temperature, ambient light, vibration, acceleration, or air pressure. When one of these timers expires, it powers up the corresponding sensor, takes a sample, and converts it to a digital word. If the data is interesting, it may either be stored directly in the SRAM or the microcontroller is powered up to perform more complex operations with it. When this task is complete, everything is again powered down and the timer begins counting again.

Another timer controls the receiver. When that timer expires, the receiver powers up and looks for an incoming packet. If it doesn't see one after a certain length of time, it is powered down again. The mote can receive several types of packets, including ones that are new program code that is stored in the program memory. This allows the user to change the behavior of the mote remotely. Packets may also include messages from the base station or other motes. When one of these is received, the microcontroller is powered up and used to interpret the contents of the message. The message may tell the mote to do something in particular, or it may be a message that is just being passed from one mote to another on its way to a particular destination. In response to a message or to another timer expiring, the microcontroller will assemble a packet containing sensor data or a message and transmit it using either the corner cube retroreflector or the laser diode, depending on which it has. The corner cube retroreflector transmits information just by moving a mirror and thus changing the reflection of a laser beam from the base station. This technique is substantially more energy efficient than actually generating some radiation. With the laser diode and a set of beam scanning mirrors, we can transmit data in any direction desired, allowing the mote to communicate with other Smart Dust motes.

Photos by Peter Menzel Photography

The Generations of Smart Dust Motes

Clever Dust

Ultra-low energy microcontroller developed for Smart Dust that consumes an average of 12pJ/instruction in 0.25?m CMOS.

Golem Dust with Deputy Dust

solar powered mote with bi-directional communications and sensing (acceleration and ambient light) -- same CMOS ASIC as Golem Dust with with a custom process to integrate solar cells, CCR, accelerometer, and high voltage FETs

6.6 mm3 total circumscribed volume

Golem Dust

solar powered mote with bi-directional communications and sensing (acceleration and ambient light)

11.7 mm3 total circumscribed volume

~4.8 mm3 total displaced volume


Daft Dust

63 mm3 bi-directional communication mote

DaftDustSEMSys_150.gif (321693 bytes)

DaftDustSEMic_150.gif (290520 bytes)

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DaftDustPackage1.JPG (7836 bytes)
Lixia Zhou's package

this mote has four CCR's facing towards each quadrant for better hemispherical coverage


Flashy Dust

from Bryan Atwood

138 mm3 uni-directional communication and sensing (ambient light) mote

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Brett Warneke - last edited April 30, 2004