The smallest computer in the world – the milimiter-scale computing era!

The tiny cubic millimeter computing device, nested upon a coin. (c) Greg Chen

In a paper presented at the International Solid-State Circuits Conference (ISSCC) in San Francisco, researchers from Michigan University unveiled one of the most exiting electronic-based prototype I’ve been grated to see in a very long time. Pictured above is an implantable eye pressure monitor which can be used to watch for signs of glaucoma in a patient – it measures at a staggering one cubic millimeter! The device is comprised of a extremely small battery, a consolidated radio and antenna, a pressure sensor, memory, and a rather diminutive processor designed to consume extremely little power.

The research was lead by U-M Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science: professors Dennis Sylvester and David Blaauw, and assistant professor David Wentzloff.

“When you get smaller than hand-held devices, you turn to these monitoring devices,” Blaauw said. “The next big challenge is to achieve millimeter-scale systems, which have a host of new applications for monitoring our bodies, our environment and our buildings. Because they’re so small, you could manufacture hundreds of thousands on one wafer. There could be 10s to 100s of them per person and it’s this per capita increase that fuels the semiconductor industry’s growth.”

Remarkable is not only its size, but also the employed technology for energy conservation and data transmission; the processor empowers an unique power gating architecture and an extreme sleep mode to achieve ultra-low power consumption (it only powers every 15 minutes to take measurements and consumes 5.3 nanowatts), the battery is self charging requiring 10 hours of indoor light each day or 1.5 hours of sunlight for operation and the memory can store up to one week of information. Yes, all in one cubic millimeters!

“This is the first true millimeter-scale complete computing system,” Sylvester said.

“Our work is unique in the sense that we’re thinking about complete systems in which all the components are low-power and fit on the chip. We can collect data, store it and transmit it. The applications for systems of this size are endless.”

Applications can numerous, indeed, be it medical, scientific or even military. James Bond would definitely love these.


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