Self-organizing smart dust sensors for planetary exploration

Barker, J.R. and Rodriguez-Salazar, F. (2008) Self-organizing smart dust sensors for planetary exploration. In: Workshop on Nanosensors: Self-Organization and Swarm Robotics, Boston, Massachusetts, USA, 14 Sept 2008,

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Smart Dust has been conceived as a system of millimeter scale autonomous devices that form the basis for massively distributed wireless sensor networks [1] and [2]. In the present paper we review our proposed development of Smart Dust as self-organised swarms of miniature communication/sensor devices useful for remote monitoring in space exploration [3]. The underpinning miniaturised wireless/ computing network technology required is very similar to nanotechnology systems, known as Smart Specks (part of a large consortium in Scotland [4]) that are already being fabricated at the University of Glasgow Nanoelectronics Research Centre for applications in collective computer intelligence, wireless distributed systems and smart RF-ID tagging. In our space application we address the key requirement of how smart dust motes can be enabled to move in synchronisation and to navigate over large distances autonomously. We first observe that with diameters and densities comparable to sand particles the behaviour of passive dust is comparable to the movement of airborne sand which has a considerable range on earth and on planets such as Mars [5, 6]. A possible application for smart dust would be to launch several tens of thousands of smart dust elements into a wind borne environment on a remote sensing mission involve navigation and data gathering/sensing over a period of time. Casualties would be inevitable. Finally, the surviving smart dust swarm would re-group into a phased array for transmission of data back to a remote spacecraft. The wireless networking of such a system is critical and complicated by the short range of available transmitter technologies and appropriate power supplies. Harvesting of local power has been investigated for: solar power, microwave absorption and collisional self-charging. However, the central problem is how to arrange for the collective self-organised motion of the smart dust ensemble in the presence of hostile terrain and weather. We have investigated the possibility of dynamically changing the shape of the smart dust elements so as to permit controlled navigation. Algorithms have been devised for the adaptive shape change of smart dust modes that permits a change in drag coefficient depending on location and heading. Monte Carlo simulations were performed for passive and smart dust [3] for swarms of smart dust devices transporting in the wind-dominated environment of the Martian landscape. It is concluded that relatively simple shape changing algorithms with nearest neighbour wireless communications augmented by longer range Small Worlds links are sufficient for long-range synchronised navigation. Practically all the energy requirements are met by entrainment of the smart dust in the wind flow provided reasonable fluctuations exist. The implementation of the shape-changing has been investigated experimentally and theoretically through the use of an electro-active polymer sheath encasing each mote. As a bonus this methodology also is a basis for energy storage through impacts with passive sand. We are also studying scaled-down versions of self-organising smart dust for applications in liquid environments. A scaled-up version for application to probes to distant solar systems is also under study.

Item Type:Conference Proceedings
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Barker, Professor John and Rodriguez-Salazar, Dr Fernando
Authors: Barker, J.R., and Rodriguez-Salazar, F.
College/School:College of Science and Engineering > School of Engineering > Systems Power and Energy
College of Science and Engineering > School of Engineering

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