Take for instance the smart dust project. An initiative of the Berkeleys Center for Information Technology Research, University of California, smart dust is all about a technology that that could improve the whole world, as Wired News puts it. When Berkeley did a press demo of smart dust two years ago, that was the clear message one got.
Smart dust is made up of thousands of sand-grain-sized sensors that can measure ambient light and temperature.
The sensors, known as mote, have wireless communications devices attached to them, and if you put a bunch of them near each other, theyll network themselves automatically. These sensors, the cost of which can be brought down drastically if mass-produced, could be plastered all over office buildings and homes.
To give you an idea of how it will work, each room in an office could perhaps have anything from 100 to 1000 light and temperature-sensing motes, all of which would tie into a central computer that regulates energy usage in the building.
The motes, therefore, would be a huge sensor network of smart dust. The objective behind the project is to conserve energy. That is, in dust-enabled rooms, computers would turn off lights in empty rooms. Also, in the rooms where computer servers are kept, air conditioners would be automatically shut off and then turned on again, depending on the temperature needs of the servers.
Although triggered by Californias power shortage, smart dust is a technology useful for the entire world. In fact, research firm IDC has identified smart dust as one of the nine powerful technologies of the future.
Among the other technologies to watch include lily pads, ratbots, nanotubes, nanomachines, quantum computing, plastic transistors, the semantic web and grid computing, according to IDC.
Smart dust, going by IDCs predictions, could one day be as significant as the microprocessor or the mouse. We looked at technologies that were beyond the radar screen of normal market research, said IDC chief research officer John Gantz, while releasing the report on them recently. The nine technologies that have been identified by the research firm have the backing of universities and major national laboratories and offer potential to change lives.
Smart dust, which is used for logistics, monitoring, maintenance and energy saving, has already been deployed by an Australian company.
It is using the technology to detect hot spots on train wheels and identify aging wheel bearings.
Researchers at Berkeley say that using the emerging technology to create power-aware buildings could provide potential savings to the state of as much as $7 to $8 billion a year in energy costs.
They also believe the technology could keep consumers utility bills in check and reduce the need to build new power plants.