Skip to content

Tech Notes: Surrounded

The Reminder is making its archives back to 2003 available on our website. Please note that, due to technical limitations, archive articles are presented without the usual formatting. It is no secret that computer chips are getting cheaper.

The Reminder is making its archives back to 2003 available on our website. Please note that, due to technical limitations, archive articles are presented without the usual formatting.

It is no secret that computer chips are getting cheaper. Over the last five to eight years, the price of a single computer chip has fallen each year as they have increased in power. This change has made computing power almost a throwaway commodity. Walk the toy aisle in any store this Christmas season for examples. Dolls that talk, houses that know when kids are playing with them, and cheap computers for kids all show the falling price of computing power. This phenomena is also allowing a new era in information gathering called pervasive computing. Pervasive computing is the application of computer power over a large geographic area to solve a problem. Imagine a government trying to trace toxins in a water system. Scientists can trace them to an area, but not the exact origin. Instead of going through time-consuming, expensive research, with a pervasive network, biologists are able to blanket an area with computer chips called motes which are designed to locate a specific chemical and signal a research lab, letting scientists know exactly where the danger in the water system lies. Best of all, these chips will be biodegradable and will disappear after a short time lying in the water. These small chips are sometimes called "smart dust." Currently, the smallest motes are approximately the size of a golf ball and cost about $200. Scientists predict that in the next five years, they will be as small as a grain of rice and cost less then $2 each to produce. Technology such as this holds huge promise for any number of fields. Weapons inspectors will no longer need to be on the ground throughout a dangerous country. Planeloads of tiny chips set to search for radiation will be scattered across large areas, and point to those needing a closer look. The same will be true for environmental monitoring, avalanche examination, and even to collect medical data from patients when the motes are small enough to be placed under bandages. Low cost chips are already being used by governments to gather information about water flow rates temperatures in rivers at certain times of the year to predict salmon spawn levels, and to monitor the health of urban reservoirs. These are relatively primitive sensors searching for specific information, but in the near future, they will be able to scan an area for any number of possibilities. As these chips become even cheaper then they currently are, using computer power to gather information in almost any situation will be commonplace. It will be at this point that computing power will become pervasive. When you walk into the doctor's office complaining of a pain in your side, she will be able to give you a shot that is filled with tiny chips each bearing a camera able to comb through your veins looking for internal damage or trouble. It sounds like science fiction, but this technology is only a few years away. Computers already surround us, just wait until they are not only on your desk, but in your water and under your feet. (cfisher@mts.net)

push icon
Be the first to read breaking stories. Enable push notifications on your device. Disable anytime.
No thanks