Imagine automobile tires that sound a warning when they need air, a milk carton that tells grocers its contents are spoiled, or sprinklers that know when crops are parched.
It may sound like the stuff of a science-fiction movie. But university scientists have created tiny, sophisticated sensors that promise to do these things and much more. One of the pioneers of this research has started a company to bring it to market.
The micro machines, commonly called motes, are able to measure air pressure, temperature and humidity, among other things. They are inexpensive and disposable, yet capable of monitoring their surroundings for several years on miniature battery power.
Motes contain microprocessors, two-way radios and software that makes them “smart” enough to form a wireless network. Scatter a bunch of motes in a field and they are able to locate one another, collect data and communicate with a base station. If one mote fails, the others work around it.