Speck-tacular advance in sensor technology

A UK Consortium has successfully developed minute semiconductor grains that can sense and compute locally and communicate wirelessly.


Five Scottish universities have teamed up to form a Consortium that has successfully developed minute semiconductor grains that can sense and compute locally and communicate wirelessly.



Researchers from the Speckled Computing Research Consortium recently unveiled two applications for the 1 mm3 devices at London’s ScienceMuseum: a speck that could be moved up or down in the air to play a computer game, and one to track visitors around the museum.



The researchers will spend £5m over the next five years, including a £3.7m grant from the EPSRC, to develop both the software and hardware to make specks commercially attractive.



Consortium director Damal Arvind said that all specks would have three abilities in common; the ability to sense, process the data that is being sensed, and to share that information among all the neighbouring specks.



The two applications that have so far been shown use specks that contain motion sensors. Other specks would have different types of sensors to measure temperature, humidity, light or speed.



Because the concept of wireless specks is so new, the researchers have to build everything needed to manufacture them from scratch. The University of Edinburgh, which is leading the consortium, has enrolled Glasgow, Napier, St Andrews and Strathclyde to build the different parts needed to make the specks work. Processors, wireless protocols, applications and batteries are all being developed especially for the specks.



Arvind said: ‘There are a number of quite difficult technical problems that we need to overcome. It’s not so much the battery that is difficult as integrating the various sub-systems so that you get a sufficiently integrated system.’



Although the commercial uses of wireless specks are almost limitless, the consortium has yet to secure any private funding.