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Human interaction with Earth to be revolutionized with trillions of micro-sensors.

– September 14, 2016

This article was originally published on Raw Science TV on September 21, 2015. It was reposted on September 14, 2016 with updates including Smarter Planet and Breakthrough Initiative. 


In the late 1990’s,  University of California, Berkeley professor Kristofer Pister coined the term “smart dust” which refers to autonomous sensing and communication in a cubic meter. Micro-electronic machines (MEMs) can sense and communicate information in swarms like dust. This concept is predicted as “ultra-miniature spy-circuits” in the 1972 science fiction story The Unknown by Christopher Anvil (Medium: Future Military Sensors Could be Tiny Specks of “Smart Dust” by Steve Weinz). The idea has sparked fear in the minds of fiction readers as a story of nanotechnology-gone-awry where self-replicating robots which consume all matter on Earth leaving nothing left but “grey goo.” Smart dust is becoming real, though, as the ultimate hive-mind of the Internet of Things. Like nerve endings for an entire planet, the sensors will be have many benevolent uses from micro-applications in the human body to macro-applications like eco-surveillance. Two of the leading “smart dust” projects are Planetary Skin and Central Nervous System for the Earth (CeNSE). The Art of Service‘s Internet of Things predictive analytics report is a useful tool to evaluate any of the technologies.

The Art of Service

The Art of Service‘s Internet of Things predictive analytics report evaluates technologies and applications (including IBM’s Smarter Planet) in terms of their business impact, adoption rate and maturity level to help users decide where and when to invest. The top 10 predictive analytic scorers for investment in IoT for 2016 are: 

1. Connected car
2. Smart home
3. Complex system
4. Fog computing
5. CeNSE
6. Big Data
7. ThingWorx
8. Industrial internet of things
10. Algorithmic regulation

A full report with data is available here at Art of Service.


Planetary Skin 

Project Website: Planetary Skin Institute (PSI) is a global non-profit research and development organization that aims to improve the lives of millions of people around the world by developing risk and resource management decision services to address the growing challenges of resource scarcity, the land-water-food-energy-climate nexus and the increasing impact and frequency of weather extremes. PSI collaborates with research and development partners across multiple sectors regionally and globally to identify, conceptualize, and incubate replicable and scalable big data and associated innovations, that could significantly increase the resilience of low-income communities, increase food, water, and energy security and protect key ecosystems and biodiversity.

Fast Company: How NASA, Cisco, and a Tricked-Out Planetary Skin Could Make the World a Safer Place:

Planetary Skin

“In late 2008, Cisco and NASA co-developed a vision for a global network of sensors that would analyze virtually everything happening on the planet. It launched in 2009 as Planetary Skin—one of the largest wireless sensor network deployments ever. It was called one of Time magazine’s best innovations of 2009. Planetary Skin Institute is a bridge between organizations like the World Economic Forum, NASA, and the University of Minnesota. It takes in massive amounts of data from space-to-mud-to-ocean sensors. And it uses experts and big data analytics to help emerging market governments know things like where to build infrastructure and where droughts will hit.


The Central Nervous System for the Earth (CeNSE) is a research and development program with the goal of building a planet-wide sensing network using “billions of tiny, cheap, tough and exquisitely sensitive detectors,” according to its creator HP Labs (Earth Calling: Turn off the lights! by Margie Wylie). The project is out of the Information and Quantum Systems Lab (IQSL) at HP and is led by senior researcher Peter Hartwell. The project includes small sensors embedded in bridges and buildings to warn of structural strains or weather conditions.


Project Website: “HP’s Central Nervous System for the Earth (CeNSE), a project of HP Labs, is revolutionizing the way information is gathered, communicated, and analyzed. CeNSE consists of a highly intelligent network of billions of nanoscale sensors designed to feel, taste, smell, see, and hear what is going on in the world. When fully deployed, these sensors will quickly gather data and transmit it to powerful computing engines, which will analyze and act upon the information in real time using a new breed of business applications and web services.

CeNSE combines breakthrough innovations from HP Labs in nanotechnology-enabled sensors, networking, data storage and computation, business analytics, and optimization in ways that could make people and businesses safer, more secure, and more efficient.

By providing real-time information on the physical environment, the networks are intended to improve the way governments, businesses, and society respond to and manage environmental, biological, and physical/structural changes. Examples of potential CeNSE uses include roads, buildings, bridges, and other infrastructure; machines such as those used in airplanes and manufacturing plants; and organizations that work on health and safety issues, such as the contamination of food and water, disease control, and patient monitoring.

CeNSE will open up a new breed of business optimization applications using information ranging from operating capacity and merchandise tracking to environmental management and safety. The sensors will have the potential to “smell” a gas leak, monitor the speed and volume of freeway traffic, sense wear and tear on a bridge, or track the spread of the next flu virus. With CeNSE, organizations can be more effective and use resources more efficiently throughout the global economy. CeNSE could lead to tenfold gains in production efficiencies and the ability to extend the life of manufacturing components by 50%.”

Breakthrough Initiatives: Starshot 

The Strashot  challenge is part of the Breakthrough Initiatives. The Breakthrough Initiatives are a program of scientific and technological exploration, probing the big questions of life in the Universe: Are we alone? Are there habitable worlds in our galactic neighborhood? Can we make the great leap to the stars? And can we think and act together – as one world in the cosmos?

“In the last decade and a half, rapid technological advances have opened up the possibility of light-powered space travel at a significant fraction of light speed. This involves a ground-based light beamer pushing ultra-light nanocrafts – miniature space probes attached to lightsails – to speeds of up to 100 million miles an hour. Such a system would allow a flyby mission to reach Alpha Centauri in just over 20 years from launch, and beam home images of possible planets, as well as other scientific data such as analysis of magnetic fields.

Breakthrough Starshot aims to demonstrate proof of concept for ultra-fast light-driven nanocrafts, and lay the foundations for a first launch to Alpha Centauri within the next generation. Along the way, the project could generate important supplementary benefits to astronomy, including solar system exploration and detection of Earth-crossing asteroids.”

Profesor Kristopher Pister, who originally coined the term “smart dust” as referenced above, must be proud to see a swarm of smart dust being sent all the way to Alpha Centauri.



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Main Photo: Wikimedia (Creative Commons)

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