The dawning of the age of neural dust

It’s widely understood that computing has been shrinking in size for some time.  It might not be as well appreciated just how tiny computing has become.

Case in point: the development of smart dust.  Computing so small that it resembles dust particles in size.

dustThe neural dust is implanted in the muscles and peripheral nerves of rats and is unique due to its use of ultrasound. It holds the ability to both power and read measurements.

Neural dust.  Do you get that science fiction feel yet?

Here’s a sketch of how the tech works:

Sensors at this time have already been shrunken to a size of 1 millimeter cube, which is about the size of a large grain of sand. These hold a piezoelectric crystal that converts ultrasound vibrations from outside of the body into electricity that powers a tiny, on board transistor that is in direct contact with a nerve or muscle fiber. When there is a spike in voltage within the fiber, this alters the circuit and the vibration of the crystal, which then changes the echo detected by the ultrasound receiver.

This is a very experimental technology, still in the earliest, in-lab days.  But think about how neural dust might be deployed and used down the road, from medical work to defense applications to hacking and…

You can learn much more from the research team’s latest academic paper, “Wireless Recording in the Peripheral Nervous System with Ultrasonic Neural Dust”, published in Cell.

Wireless Recording in the Peripheral Nervous System with Ultrasonic Neural Dust

Figure 1 of 6.


I’ve been telling people about the trend towards invisible computing for some time (most recently, at the NMC conference in Rochester).  So I take great pleasure in saying “I told you so.”

“The most profound technologies are those that disappear. They weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it.”

-Mark Weiser, The Computer for the 21st Century

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1 Response to The dawning of the age of neural dust

  1. Pingback: Two more science fiction technologies became real this week | Bryan Alexander

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