U-M Retakes Record for World’s Smallest Computer

One of the most advanced areas in the tech industry is tiny computers. While most people are used to seeing a computer on their desktop, a laptop, or even a smartphone, these devices are simply massive compared to the smallest functioning computers in the world.

Truly micro-computers have important uses in many industries including medical fields where they can be used to gather data (and someday, perhaps, fight cancer), commercial fields where they are used to fight counterfeits, and many others.

UM-Smallest-Computer
Source: Michigan News

For years now, the two biggest players (pardon the pun) in the micro-computer field have been the University of Michigan, and IBM. In 2015, the U of M announced their Micro Mote, which could fit on the edge of a nickel, at the time it was the world’s smallest. In March of 2018, IBM released a computer that was 1 mm x 1 mm in size, breaking the record. Just recently, the University of Michigan reclaimed their title with the announcement of a computer ten times smaller than IBMs.

This computer, which is just .3mm x .3mm. To give some scale, you could fit dozens of them on the edge of a piece of rice.

Why Small Computers?

The simple answer here is that small computers can fit into small spaces. In addition, they have greater functionality than a simple sensor. With a computer this small it is possible to have it placed inside the eye to detect pressure and gather information. The University of Michigan also mentioned that these computers could potentially be made to place inside of tiny snails to help improve studies done on them.

While these ideas are interesting, and very useful to some people, the real excitement for many will be in the related advancements they allow. Since creating tiny computers requires engineers to come up with new ways to design circuits, use less power, and overcome other challenges, what is learned here will be used in the designs of many future computing systems.

The more that is learned about tiny computing like this, the more advancements we will see in the future of smartphones and other similar devices that require advanced technology in smaller spaces.

It Isn’t All About Size

David Blaauw is a professor who is co-leading the project, and in an email statement said the following of these super-small computers. “We are about 10x smaller so we can fit in smaller spaces. Also, the IBM computer can’t sense its environment – it can send a code identifying itself but it does not sense its physical environment.”

The point here is that no matter how small a computer can get, it has to serve a function in order to be useful. Fortunately, there are endless ways that small computers can be used, and as they get more and more advanced, those options will only expand. With the size of this computer, it is easy to see how computers could be put inside the human body to monitor different aspects of your health.

As these computers become more powerful (they are still extremely limited compared to a traditional device), they will be able to serve more and more functions. Tiny computers are programed with very specific tasks so they can only really do a small number of things. Of course, it just takes having different code developed and loaded on to change the tasks that are possible.