Light Reading
Microcomputing motes are just one of the out-there ideas being pursued by Intel's newish research division

Intel Envisions 'Smart Dust'

Light Reading
News Analysis
Light Reading
3/20/2003
50%
50%

Every sci-fi geek has heard of smart dust – tiny nanomachines that float around, collecting data and transmitting information. They played a role in Neal Stephenson's novel The Diamond Age, where he talked about clouds of smart dust floating invisibly in the atmosphere, occasionally getting into fights and leaving smart-dust carcasses that could eventually cause lung damage.

Smart dust isn't quite reality yet, but bigger versions – where the dust motes are small computer boards – are already in use. Motes are among dozens of ideas being pursued by Intel Research, a relatively new R&D arm of Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) devoted to technologies that have feasible applications but aren't yet serious businesses.

Intel executives gave the press a first introduction to Intel Research on Wednesday, at a reception near the company's Santa Clara, Calif., headquarters. Other technologies on display ranged from audio-visual speech recognition – where the computer reads your lips as well as interpreting your voice – to chips for analyzing DNA and proteins.

The motes fit into a larger Intel dream of "proactive computing" (never mind that there's no such word). This would be the next step after ubiquitous computing: With so many computing devices surrounding us, we're going to want them to talk with each other rather than having to interact with a human all the time, says David Tennenhouse, vice president of Intel's corporate technology group.

Part of the idea is to cut down on information overload from cell phones, PDAs, and whatever other devices invade your life in the future. "You want to have oceans of computers standing behind those, working behind the scenes," Tennenhouse says.

The life-cycle of an Intel Research project starts at a university. Intel has placed R&D offices near campuses such as U.C. Berkeley or the University of Cambridge, and it seeds those campuses with grants to pursue interesting-sounding research. As a line of study develops, Intel may increase the grants and start doing parallel projects internally.

The Intel-internal projects were on display at Wednesday's event. These are still in the research phase – they have conceivable applications, but it's not clear whether they'll become Intel products. Many could become areas that Intel simply encourages because they drive the need for microprocessor technology, the company's interest in video games being one example.

For the researchers, these projects present a chance to dabble without the usual market pressures. That's one reason why 13-year Intel veteran Ralph Kling, a low-power electronics expert, joined the mote team nine months ago. "You don't get to define new architectures that often," he says.

An Intel mote is a small computer board – about one-third the size of a credit card – that houses a sensor, a microcontroller, and a radio. The idea is to get these devices to create ad hoc networks among themselves, transmitting data to some central server or gateway. This would allow remote monitoring of conditions such as temperature or humidity; the idea works with chemical and biological sensors as well (anthrax detection was a popular example among the researchers).

The problem is that these devices have to be low-power, because they'll often be in places where it's inconvenient or impossible to be changing batteries all the time. That means they have to rely on very short-range transmission schemes, such as Bluetooth.

In an environment like a factory floor, many of the motes would be several network hops away from the gateway. Data would hop from mote to mote, with the chances of packet loss increasing at each hop.

Intel's demonstration on Wednesday showed the idea of placing a few 802.11 motes into the network. These acted as hubs, with other motes using their 802.11 brethren as gateways to the real gateway, thus cutting down the number of hops for most traffic. It also lowers the amount of work each mote has to do – since they wouldn't be forwarding one another's data in those multihop scenarios – which in turn lowers their power consumption and increases battery life.

So, what will it take for these motes to become truly dust-sized? The biggest challenge turns out to be the battery, because most of the other parts will shrink as technology advances.

"Sensors are very shrinkable using nanotechnology. CPUs [central processing units] we know will shrink. Memory, the same thing – it's all Moore's Law, essentially," Kling says.

Moore's Law doesn't apply to the radio, because it's made of analog components, which don't necessarily shrink with new generations of manufacturing technology. But Intel's plan is to move most of the radio into the digital realm and even handle many functions in software – the so-called "software-defined radio."

That leaves the battery, and because the battery's going to be slow to shrink, it might not be worth striving for dust-sized motes just yet. "Do you want to spend a lot of time designing a package that's going to be dominated by the battery?" Kling says.

Nearly 100 teams are using the motes, Tennenhouse says. They're being used to monitor birds' habitats on Great Duck Island off the coast of Maine. More practically, they could be used to monitor temperature throughout a building. Or an airplane could spray them over a forest fire, and they could report temperature levels for particular locations, giving firefighters a map of what's going on.

Among the most likely applications is one Intel itself could use. The company has up to 4,000 sensors in each of its manufacturing facilities, or fabs (fabrication facilities). They monitor the vibrations of fab equipment, detecting early signs of wear and tear so the machines can be fixed before they break. Great idea, but the 4,000 sensors have to be read by hand – a job that could be automated by motes.

The motes are still in the prototype stage. Intel's hope is to condense the board into a single chip, which doesn't appear likely until after 2005.

— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading

(3)  | 
Comment  | 
Print  | 
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
Sisyphus
50%
50%
Sisyphus,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 12:24:15 AM
re: Intel Envisions 'Smart Dust'

Accoring to Merriam Webster

Main Entry: pro-+ac-+tive
Pronunciation: (")prO-'ak-tiv
Function: adjective
Date: 1933
1 [pro-] : relating to, caused by, or being interference between previous learning and the recall or performance of later learning <proactive inhibition="" memory="" of="">
2 [pro- + reactive] : acting in anticipation of future problems, needs, or changes</proactive>
Pete Baldwin
50%
50%
Pete Baldwin,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 12:24:08 AM
re: Intel Envisions 'Smart Dust'
Yes, I've seen that dictionary entry, and it's wrong wrong WRONG. No dictionary had that word 10 years ago -- probably not even 5 -- and, like "ain't," they shouldn't add it just because people use it.



Look, I realize new words will get invented from time to time. But they 1) should actually mean something new, and 2) shouldn't come from marketing speak, fer chrissake.



"Proactive" is not a word. I ain't backing down on that.

CogswellCogs
50%
50%
CogswellCogs,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 12:24:07 AM
re: Intel Envisions 'Smart Dust'
Interesting.

You claim that proactive is not a word, no dictionary had it ten or even five years ago. As Sisyphus noted, it first appeared in Merriam-Webster in 1933. Wow, they are celebrating seventy years of being wrong. And to prove your point, you link to a source that also contains the following advice:

Avoid using sexiest words such as "mankind" or "man."

Hmmmm - "man" is not one of top ten sexiest words on my list. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Of course, I would expect nothing less than this from LR. You aren't also the founder of a research company providing consulting to companies building the optical Internet, are you? Oops, that's the other guy. Never mind.

Cogs
Flash Poll
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
Network Solutions Help the Philippines Jump Ahead

9|17|14   |   2:59   |   (0) comments


In the past, the Philippines has under-invested in technology. Now, the CEO of Softshell talks about how Huawei products help the Philippines jump ahead as the economy improves.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
VCS Observation for Safer Cities in the Netherlands

9|17|14   |   5:20   |   (0) comments


Holland's VCS Observation has been operating for 22 years. Its main goal is to get cities safer. CEO Wim van Deijzen tells us some of the challenges his company faces and how Huawei is helping to overcome these challenges.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
A Conversation With Serbia's Ministry of Interior

9|17|14   |   4:38   |   (0) comments


At HCC 2014, the Assistant Minister of the Ministry of Interior of the Republic of Serbia talks to us about his projects and corporation with Huawei. Solutions like Safe City and E-Government and services like cloud computing are just some of the areas his department is interested in.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
IHS Analyst Discusses eLTE at CCW 2014

9|10|14   |   7:09   |   (0) comments


Thomas Lynch, associate director of critical communications at IHS Technology, talks about broadband in critical communications.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
TCAA on Huawei eLTE: A Broadband Solution for Mission-Critical Communications

9|10|14   |   2:29   |   (0) comments


At CCW2014 in Singapore, the TCCA's Phil Kidner talks about the importance of broadband data for critical communications.
LRTV Custom TV
Spotlight on Cisco: SDN for Optical Networks

9|8|14   |   9:27   |   (0) comments


Cisco's Greg Nehib talks OpenFlow and more on the 'Software-Defined Networking for Optical Networks' panel at the Big Telecom Event in June 2014.
LRTV Custom TV
Cisco's Evolved Programmable Network (EPN)

9|8|14   |   4:05   |   (0) comments


A look at the various demos Cisco showed at Light Reading's Big Telecom Event highlighting Cisco's EPN innovation and how SDN and NFV technologies are enabling a variety of new services.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
The Future of Ultra-Broadband, With Kevin Kelly (UBBF2014)

9|5|14   |   1:13   |   (0) comments


If you think the technological changes we've seen up to now are astounding, just wait until you see what the future has in store. Discuss upcoming breakthroughs with Kevin Kelly, Founding Executive Editor of Wired Magazine, at the Huawei Ultra-Broadband Forum on September 24.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
The Inaugural Optical Innovation Forum in Nice

9|2|14   |     |   (0) comments


More than 170 attendees from network operators, service providers, analyst firms, and component companies from around the world convened in Nice in June for the inaugural Optical Innovation Forum, co-produced by Huawei and Light Reading.
Wagner’s Ring
Data Centers Drive Telcos Into the Future

8|28|14   |   2:20   |   (2) comments


Data centers are at the heart of key trends driving telecom -- network virtualization, the drive for increased agility, and the need to compete with OTT providers.
LRTV Custom TV
Why SPs Should Consider Cisco's EPN

8|27|14   |   5:40   |   (0) comments


Sultan Dawood from Cisco discusses Cisco's EPN, which enables SPs to build agile and programmable networks delivering new network virtualized services using Cisco's Evolved Services Platform (ESP).
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
Huawei’s Showcase @ Big Telecom Event 2014

8|26|14   |   2.56   |   (0) comments


SoftCOM is Huawei's framework for telecom business and network transformation. Haofei Liu, Solution Marketing Manager, Carrier Business Group, Huawei, showcases Huawei's SoftCOM architecture in this video.
Upcoming Live Events!!
September 23, 2014, Denver, CO
October 29, 2014, New York City
November 6, 2014, Santa Clara
November 11, 2014, Atlanta, GA
December 2, 2014, New York City
December 3, 2014, New York City
December 9-10, 2014, Reykjavik, Iceland
June 9-10, 2015, Chicago, IL
Infographics
A survey conducted by Vasona Networks suggests that 72% of mobile users expect good performance all the time, and they'll blame the network operator when it's not up to par.
Today's Cartoon
Vacation Special Caption Competition Click Here
Latest Comment
Hot Topics
Introducing 'The New IP'
Steve Saunders, CEO and founder, Light Reading, 9/11/2014
Glimpsing the Self-Driving Car
Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, 9/12/2014
AT&T to Launch WiFi Calling in 2015
Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, 9/12/2014
AT&T: We'll Bundle Fixed Wireless & DirecTV
Mari Silbey, Independent Technology Editor, 9/15/2014
New NFV Forum Focused on Interoperability
Carol Wilson, Editor-at-large, 9/16/2014
Like Us on Facebook
Twitter Feed