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Smart Dust & Nano Tech

Sketches conceptualizing microscopic technologies such as smart dust and nano-machines.

Photo of Finlay Paterson
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Sketch 1 (1,500 characters)

This composition shows structures overlaid with geometric data in an attempt to make it more readable to the viewer. I am attempting to strike a balance between physical representation and conceptual imagery, so that the image can be interpreted not literally but as a kind of visual metaphor for some element or concept which it describes. This piece investigates the structural relationship of these tiny interconnected machines. Whether for kinetic means, or other technological expression, I am curious how the will machine manifest and what it might look like. At a small enough scale, when does a machine stop looking like our conventional definition, and start to resemble an organism?

Sketch 2 (1,500 characters)

This design shows a kind of lattice structure with a complex path of interconnected nodes. Rather than describing the physical shape of the machine, this visualization conceptualizes a kind of nervous system made up of similar parts. Interoperability and reconfiguration are concepts I want to explore in my visual analysis as I produce more work on this subject.

What have you learned through this sketching process? (1,000 characters)

Through exploring these concepts I have been exposed to new ideas, which have inspired further concepts. I intend to continue to digest the current state of this technology, as well as future proposals that might hint at where this space is headed. In the case of miniature machines which humans cannot generally perceive, it seems important to convey not just the mechanics but the potential utility of this tech in various applications. As it relates to cyber/real world security, this topic seems rife with potential problems and vulnerabilities that will become increasingly relevant as this technology matures.

Tell us more about you. (1,000 characters)

I am a visual artist with a focus on 3D modelling and animation, as well as a software/game developer. Currently I work as a Technical Artist for a startup in the AR space, and on the side I create visual art and mobile games.

Why are you participating in this Challenge? (750 characters)

I saw this challenge posted on social media, and since I have been working on a series of pieces exploring the concepts of smart dust and nano machines this seemed like a good opportunity to get some constructive feedback. I am interested in the chance to iterate on this idea while being informed by experts. It seems that often technology is created ahead of the social conversation around it, in the case of these proposed concepts- there is an interesting opportunity to produce visuals that compel conversation from experts which precede the maturing of these technologies.


What is your experience with the field of cybersecurity?

  • I have never worked in cybersecurity before but am excited to learn more and get involved.

What best describes you?

  • I’m a professional visual creator affiliated with an organization.

How did you hear about this OpenIDEO Challenge?

  • OpenIDEO email / social media

Location: City


Location: State / District


Location: Country

  • Canada


Join the conversation:

Photo of Dima Boulad

Thank you for your contribution Finlay Paterson  and welcome to the Cybersecurity Visuals challenge. Dima here, I am here to support you in the process. I am curious to learn more about your entry and your message behind it. Could you explain a bit how the representation of the smart dust and the machines relate to the world of cybersecurity? I appreciate the abstraction of your entry, but I am wondering how we can help push it further. What do you think @DeletedUser ?

Photo of Finlay Paterson

Hey Dima,

Thanks for the warm welcome. Let me try to explain my thinking a bit more clearly:

I came across this concept looking at the Gartner "hype cycle for emerging technologies”[1] and had no idea what smart dust was, so I looked deeper. Information online is scant, which inspired me to look deeper. I found articles and academic papers, as well as military, surveillance and healthcare applications. Although I never got a good sense of what these devices might look like or how they would function. This article on Forbes[2] is a great example of the kind of visuals being used to in conversations around this technology.

I've been making art on the topic, ideating on a design language to describe these concepts visually. If this technology is going to be a part of our future and have such major implications in our societies and lives, I hope that we will have conversations around privacy, security, and militarization in a public forum. My thinking in applying to this challenge was that I might get to connect with people who work in this field and can critique and make suggestions for how I can be more accurate to the technical details, as well as make suggestions for subject matter and scenarios which might be good to depict to further the discourse around this subject.

This topic feels to me like an intersection of science fiction and modern technology. I see this as an opportunity to discuss cybersecurity, as well as ethics, perhaps in a more hypothetical context. Though these predictions and suppositions might not be accurate, I think they point towards the direction we are heading and compel valuable discourse from the scientific community and general public alike.


Photo of DeletedUser


What lies at the intersection of Smart Dust and Cyber Security?

The techno-thriller fan in me recalls Michael Crichton's novel "Prey" which has themes of nanotechnology, distributed artificial intelligence, a predatory robotic insects swarms.

Science fiction aside, Smart Dust can relate to cyber security in the following ways sorted by focus areas:

Cyber Conflict
- The damage a ballistic missile could do in the early 2000s would be equivalent to the damage a cloud of Smart Dust would cause in the future. Specifically at risk is a nation's infrastructure and utilities. Illustration idea: 3d structure from Sketch2(smart dust cloud) rising over terrified city. Someone pointing screaming. Alternatively, the cloud is hovering and protecting against oncoming attack visual.

Digital Privacy & Encryption
- Privacy used to be a matter of dodging cameras but with Smart Dust, tiny particulates can surround you/be inside you and collect sensitive data for parties with access. Illustration idea: Sketch1 can be colored to look like a microscopic view of blood with embedded smart dust. Ideally the smart dust would look like like tiny cameras and microphones but not sure how that can be done with this art style. Alternatively, a small caption across Sketch1 that reads "Blood Encryption: 120/80." A jab at blood pressure and encryption practices.

IOT and Surveillance can also be applicable here but my thumb hurts and I should get back to improving my own submission. :)

Cheers - good luck!

Photo of DeletedUser


Oh this is fancy. Sketch2 belongs in a modern art museum. If it was made of wood I'd hanging it in the foyeur like a chandelier. I haven't yet explored 3d modelling in art - i'm curious about the software used and workflow.

Sketch 1 is less impactful for me. I think its because the white edges on the structures are not as smooth or clean.