Years ago, enthusiasts predicted the coming of "smart dust," tiny digital sensors, strewn around the globe, gathering all sorts of information and communicating with powerful computer networks to monitor, measure and understand the physical world in new ways. But this intriguing vision seemed plucked from the realm of science fiction.
Smart dust, to be sure, remains a ways off. But technology's cycle of smaller, faster, and cheaper has reached the point that experts say sensors may soon be powerful enough to be the equivalent of tiny computers.
The New York Times outlines some ambitious sensor research projects that provide a glimpse of where things are headed, including HP's "Central Nervous System for the Earth" and several at UCLA's Center for Embedded Networked Sensing involving cell phones.
More than 800 presentations on smart structures and materials, sensor networks, and optical fiber sensors will be delivered at SPIE Smart Structures/NDE in San Diego, 7-11 March. Plenary speakers will include Christian Boller (Fraunhofer Institute), Ralph Tatam (Cranfield University), Jose Zayas (Sandia National Labs), Fu-Kuo Chang (Stanford University), and Gordon Wallace (University of Wollongong).