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"A science fiction story is a story built around human beings, with a human problem and a human solution, which would not have happened at all without its scientific content."
- Theodore Sturgeon

  A tiny sensor device that could also form networks with other motes.  

These devices are also called "localizers" in the novel.

The dustmote image swelled until it was a meter across and almost forty centimeters high. The head-up display automation painted appropriate reflections and shadows.

"Thanks." Trinli stood so they could all see him over the top of the lens-shaped gadget. "This is the basic Qeng Ho localizer - normally embedded in protective barriers, and so on. But see, in a benign environment - even outside in the shade - it is quite self-sufficient."

"Power?" said Reynolt.

Trinli waved his hand dismissively. "Just pulse them with microwaves, maybe a dozen times a second. I don't know the details, but I've seen them used in much larger numbers on some projects. I'm sure that would give finer control. As for sensors, these puppies have several simple things built in - temperature, light level, sonics."

From A Deepness in the Sky, by Vernor Vinge.
Published by Not known in 1999
Additional resources -

Here's another bit:

...these dustmotes already had sensors and independence built in. They weren't an embedded component of a system; they could be the system itself.
For a modern analog, take a look at multi-hop RFID tags.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from A Deepness in the Sky
  More Ideas and Technology by Vernor Vinge
  Tech news articles related to A Deepness in the Sky
  Tech news articles related to works by Vernor Vinge

Dustmote-related news articles:
  - Multi-Hop RFID Tags Track Monkeys
  - Ultrasonic Wireless ‘Neural Dust’ Sensors For Medical Monitoring

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