First Millimeter-Scale Computer System

The first true millimeter-scale computer system has been created at the University of Michigan. The device was created to use in an implantable eye pressure monitor for glaucoma patients. The device also contains a compact radio that could enable tiny wireless sensor networks.

The tiny computer can be seen in this detailed picture below. The first true millimeter-scale computer system is shown sitting on top of a penny.


(First millimeter scale computer system)

The work is being led by three faculty members in the 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."

In a package that's just over 1 cubic millimeter, the system fits an ultra low-power microprocessor, a pressure sensor, memory, a thin-film battery, a solar cell and a wireless radio with an antenna that can transmit data to an external reader device that would be held near the eye.

"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."

These computer systems are just what we need for tiny devices like the aerostat monitors from Neal Stephenson's 1995 novel The Diamond Age.

Via University of Michigan.

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