Tiniest Computer in the World

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See it now, folks! Between the Bearded Lady and the Monster Spider –- the World's Smallest Computer!

Seriously, the world's smallest computer. It barely covers the “N” on a penny. The prototypical sensor device developed by researchers at the University of Michigan is intended to monitor eye pressure for glaucoma patients. It connects wirelessly to other computers and is charged with a solar cell, needing just 1.5 hours of sunlight or 10 hours of indoor light to reach full power.

The mini-computer has potential for a plethora of applications, from sensing pollution, structural integrity, tracking and surveillance — virtually any way one could think of to make an object “smart.” Furthermore, researchers can control the size and shape of the computer's antenna, dictating how it communicates with other devices. So the chip's radio doesn't need tuning from the outside; a number of the tiny computers could automatically start talking to each other as soon as they turn on then, as long as they are built to pick up the same frequency.

The size of this gadget may seem shocking, but a computer science prophet, Gordon Bell, predicted in the '70's the evolution of computer “classes” such that this revelation is, perhaps, to be expected. Bell's Law says that roughly every decade a new class of computer –- think PC, netbook, smartphone –- enters the stage and changes the industry. This law is often presented as a corollary to Moore's Law, which states that about every two years, the number of transistors that can fit on an integrated circuit — essentially the computing power of a chip — doubles.

If Daft Punk were writing this blog, they might have titled it “Smaller, Better, Faster, Stronger.”

Greg Chen/University of Michigan