Great Duck Island, a 90-hectare expanse of rock and grass off the coast of Maine, is home to one of the world’s largest breeding colonies of Leach’s storm petrels—and to one of the world’s most advanced experiments in wireless networking. Last summer, researchers bugged dozens of the petrels’ nesting burrows with small monitoring devices called motes. Each is about the size of its power source—a pair of AA batteries—and is equipped with a processor, a tiny amount of computer memory, and sensors that monitor light, humidity, pressure, and heat. There’s also a radio transceiver just powerful enough to broadcast snippets of data to nearby motes and pass on information received from other neighbors, bucket brigade–style.

This is more than the latest in avian intelligence gathering. The motes preview a future pervaded by networks of wireless battery-powered sensors that monitor our environment, our machines, and even us.