By Prarthana Mitra
A huge breakthrough at the University of Michigan has brought the world’s smallest computer into existence. Sized at a minuscule 0.3 mm to a side, tinier than a grain of rice, the team of US researchers have developed an electronic chip that Twitterati are referring to as smart dust.
A complete system in itself
According to the university website, Michigan Micro Mote is a smart sensing system that could usher in a whole new era for the Internet of Things (IoT).
“In the IoT world, size and power are everything. The computers have to be small in order to sense the world around us without being intrusive, and they have to run on extremely low power to match their size,” reads the open-source study.
Developed by Michigan faculty members David Blaauw, Dennis Sylvester, David Wentzloff, Prabal Dutta and several students over the years, the microcomputer is equipped with RAM, photovoltaics, processors, wireless transmitters and receivers.
“We are not sure if they should be called computers or not. It’s more of a matter of opinion whether they have the minimum functionality required,” said David Blaauw, a professor of electrical and computer engineering, who led the research.
“To be “complete,” a computer system must have an input of data, the ability to process that data – meaning process and store it, make decisions about what to do next – and ultimately, the ability to output the data.” Prof. Blaauw explained. “The sensors are the input and the radios are the output. The other key to being a complete computer is the ability to supply its own power.”
Its atomity is not to be mistaken for a signifier of its prowess. The solar cell-powered Michigan Micro Mote can click pictures, records temperature and pressure, besides your regular desktop functions. Equipped with a Cortex-M0, M3 is not only the world’s smallest but a completely autonomous system, that can make computing ubiquitous and pervasive.
Why you should care
Devoid of conventional radio antennae due to space restrictions, they receive and transmit data with the help of visible light. Designed as a precision temperature sensor, the new device can also convert temperatures into time intervals, defined by electronic pulses. It can monitor a room for motion or pressure anomalies and communicate the findings to a base station in real time.
This could prove to be extremely helpful in oncology research. “Since the temperature sensor is small and biocompatible, we can implant it into a mouse where cancer cells are growing,” said Gary Luker, a UM professor of radiology and biomedical engineering. Using the temperature sensor, variations in temperature within a tumour can be investigated against a normal tissue to determine success or failure of therapy, he added.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius.
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