Mike Horton, 29
Engineers tiny sensors that can be spread like crumbs around a battlefield or factory
Mike Horton is yanking the wires out of your life. His company, Crossbow Technology in San Jose, CA, makes truckloads of solid-state wireless sensors no larger than pagers. Within a year, he promises, they will be as small as bottle caps. In some cars, Crossbow’s sensors already report acceleration and engine pressure data to engine controllers. In aircraft, they are replacing the larger, less reliable, airframe-mounted mechanical gyros that correct for altitude, roll, and drift. But Horton, who holds two patents, plans to storm the wireless field with “smart dust”: sensors the size of rice grains. Sprinkled around a battleground or office building, the sensors would network themselves and analyze the environment, checking for vibrations that could indicate the passing of an enemy convoy, or airborne chemicals from an industrial spill. Having raised $13 million from Intel and other investors, Horton has partnered with mentors at the University of California, Berkeley, to write software for the motes, even as he works on reducing their size and cost. Horton believes billions of unnoticed dust sensors cold transform society: “It’s a quiet revolution,” he says.