Thursday, April 9, 2015

Nano computer from U of M

​I like small computers – the Raspberry Pi, the Intel “stick”, my phone… Computers don’t need to be large to be useful.

Here’s a tiny computer, called the Michigan Micro Mote or M^3, that was designed by University of Michigan faculty members David Blaauw, Dennis Sylvester, David Wentzloff, Prabal Dutta and a slew of grad students over the past ten years.

How tiny? Well, you can fit a couple of them in Lincoln's head on a penny with room to spare – more than a thousand would fit in a shot glass.

They’re real computers with storage, processing, power and they use light for input and radio for output. Since much of the size of a computer, like a phone, is taken up with the screen and battery, doing without these allows researchers to shrink the computer down to a tiny grain-of-rice sized computer. They’re powered by solar cells at nano-watt levels – at standby they consume 500 picowatts, about a million times lower than a typical smartphone on standby.

The wireless transmitter in the M^3 can transmit data about 2 meters, communicating status and sensor measurements as long as there’s light – they can run on ambient office light virtually forever. In the future they should be able to talk to each other at increased distances. They even have a camera module.

They’re currently being developed for implantable medical devices (using battery power instead of light.) 

Potential applications include pressure sensors to monitor glaucoma, blood pressure, heart rate, EKG, EEG, etc. They could also be used in personal security, remote sensing and monitoring – maybe include them in tiny drones for remote inspection.

Demand for the devices is currently very high as industry is looking at ways to incorporate them into their products. Can you think of uses for them in your business?

Schematic of the M^3

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