World’s Smallest Computer is Dwarfed by a Grain of Rice

The title of “world’s smallest computer” is a contentious one. The most recent team to lay claim to the title is from the University of Michigan, which has a tiny apparatus which communicates via light and makes a grain of rice appear enormous.

IBM threw down a challenge in March of this year after they constructed what they stated was the world’s smallest computer. The IBM computer is smaller than a grain of rock salt, but computing engineers all over the world made the decision they would make an effort to go even smaller. The challenge also did not sit well with a team at the University of Michigan who formerly held the record for world’s smallest compBM’s smallest compuM

Former champion: IBM’s smallest computer in the world

The computing device they made measures only 0.3 mm on a side. It is actually about a tenth the size of IBM’s past record-setter, and so sensitive that its transmission LED could start currents in its circuits.

The term “computer” is employed loosely by the university, because it questions just what exactly a computer is. As opposed to a full-sized computer, it will lose all data when it loses power.

The team’s new “computer” uses photovoltaics, a method of converting light into electricity. It also consists of a processor, system memory, and wireless transmitters and receivers that send and receive data through light. Rounding out the package is a base station that feeds the computer with light for power and programming.

“Since the temperature sensor is small and biocompatible, we can implant it into a mouse and cancer cells grow around it,” said Gary Luker, a professor of radiology and biomedical engineering. “We are using this temperature sensor to investigate variations in temperature within a tumor versus normal tissue and if we can use changes in temperature to determine success or failure of therapy.”

For Blaauw and his team, however, the applications of these incredibly small systems still comes as a pleasant surprise.

“When we first made our millimeter system, we actually didn’t know exactly all the things it would be useful for. But once we published it, we started receiving dozens and dozens and dozens of inquiries,” Blaauw said.