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drawing of a Micro Mote and salt

Micro Computer

The U-M's latest is the size of a grain of salt.

by Michael Betzold

From the September, 2018 issue

A U-M electrical and computer engineering research team has made a computer so minuscule it may not even fit the definition of what a computer is. When the U-M team produced the Michigan Micro Mote in 2010, they designed the two-by-two-by-four- millimeter device to measure temperatures in places where even the smallest thermometer couldn't fit:

Gary Luker, a U-M professor of radiology and mechanical engineering, wanted a better way to measure temperature in cancer tumors. But after its introduction, the researchers got queries about applications ranging from oil exploration to ophthalmology to surveillance. So they kept working on making their creation even smaller.

Then this March, IBM announced it had made "the world's smallest computer," measuring just one millimeter on each side. Partly spurred by that competition, the U-M team debuted its newest Micro Mote in June. It measures just 0.3 millimeters on each side-about the size of a grain of salt. ECE prof David Blaauw says it's debatable whether by itself it can be called a computer. The Micro Mote can read code, perform operations it's programmed to do, and can receive, store, and transmit data, using visible light to communicate with a "base station"-but if it's turned off completely, all the data it's collected is gone.

What the newest Mote might do is probe tiny fissures deep inside oil reservoirs, ride on the wings of a monarch butterfly, or sense pressures inside the eye for glaucoma studies. And the miniaturization race is far from over. Though going smaller is extremely challenging, Blaauw says, important possible applications make it worth the effort     (end of article)

[Originally published in September, 2018.]


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