M3 micro computer

Gone are the days of mega computing devices that were needed to be delivered in a truck, computer are getting smaller and lighter. But, would you do expect a computer device to be smaller than a grain of rice. Also referred to as smart dust, a huge breakthrough at the University of Michigan has brought the ‘World’s Smallest Micro-Computer’ into existence. Named as Michigan Micro Mote, this micro-computer is sized at just 0.3mm (1/10th the size of IBM’s micro-computer) and is smaller than a grain of rice.

The M3 is a fully autonomous computing system that acts as a smart sensing system. It is the achievement of Michigan faculty members David Blaauw, Dennis Sylvester, David Wentzloff, Prabal Dutta and several key graduate students over the years, some of whom have already founded companies to exploit key aspects of the technology. These devices are helping usher in the era of the Internet of Things (IoT), where people are connected to things and other people through the cloud.

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, says an open source study.

The Smart Dust range of devices includes computers equipped with Motion Detector enabled imagers, temperature sensors and pressure sensors. The device was designed to be a precision temperature sensor that can report temperatures in clusters of cells with an error of about 0.1 degrees Celsius.

“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. 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.”

The Michigan Micro Mote contains solar cells that power the battery with ambient light, including indoor rooms with no natural sunlight, allowing the computers to run perpetually.

Each Michigan Micro Mote computer contains the following layers:

  1. solar cell and optical communication photocell
  2. harvester control electronics layer
  3. radio layer
  4. sensor interface layer (temp sensor and capacitive interface electronics)
  5. layer with capacitors for stabilizing the power supplies (decap layer)
  6. processor + memory + power regulation layer
  7. battery
  8. optional layer for a pressure sensor, imager, etc.

“Down the road we want these sensors to be able to talk to one another and we’re currently working to extend their range to about 20 meters.” says Prof Blaauw. The sensors activate on their own to take periodic measurements and then log that data until it is sent. Operating at extremely low power during the “sleep” time is one of the many keys to the success of this technology.

Researchers at the University of Michigan say that the Michigan Micro Mote computer can be deployed to monitor intraocular pressure in glaucoma patients and intracranial pressure in trauma victims. The latter application would replace the current method of inserting a wire into the skull, which leaves the patient vulnerable to infection. Researchers and companies around the world are figuring out new ways to use these mini-computer sensing devices every day. The Michigan team is aiding in the process by sending the Michigan Micro Mote to interested researchers, as well as responding to the most intriguing projects that come their way. The researchers are confident that the micro-computer would able to solve real-life problems in near future.

Source – University of Michigan.

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