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World’s smallest computer: Things you should know

A magnified image of the world's smallest computer which can be dwarfed by a grain of rice
June 23, 2018

Researchers at the University of Michigan have been making headlines of late for their newest invention- the world’s smallest computer. The device – which is so tiny that even a grain of rice can cover it – is only 0.3 mm long. However, since it loses all its programming and data once the power is turned off, experts are not sure whether referring to this ‘microdevice’ as a ‘computer’ should be a wise move. Nevertheless, here is everything that you should know about this latest invention:

How does it work?

Since the device is too small to sport a conventional radio antennae, it uses “visible light” to send and receive data. The light from the base station, and from the device’s own transmission LED, is used to induce currents in its tiny circuits.

How was it made?

The ‘micro-device’ was designed using a precision sensor that converts temperatures into time intervals, defined with electronic pulses.

What is its application/use?

The ‘smallest computer’ will be used for sensing and reporting temperatures, especially in minuscule regions (like a cluster of cells), where traditional instruments for measuring the temperature can’t be used.

The researchers feel that the device can be effectively used to advance efforts in oncology and in evaluating cancer treatments, as tumors may run hotter than normal temperatures.

How accurate is it?

According to David Blaauw, a professor of electrical and computer engineering who led the team behind this breakthrough, the computer can report temperatures with an error of about 32.18° Fahrenheit (0.1° Celsius).

Which company/device held the previous record for the world’s smallest computer?

Before this device was revealed at the 2018 Symposia on VLSI Technology and Circuits, IBM held the record for the tiniest computer measuring 1mm x 1mm.

Prior to IBM’s record, a device named “Michigan Micro Mote” was the smallest computer, which measured 2x2x4 mm. This one, however, had the ability to retain its data and programming even when the power was turned off!


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