The world’s tiniest computer was just constructed by University of Michigan researchers (again). The Michigan Micro Mote, their prior microcomputer, had dimensions of 2x2x4mm. It was a whole, operational system run on solar-powered batteries. But, IBM unveiled a new, more compact computer in March of this year that was the size of a grain of salt and measured 1 mm. “A few eyebrows were raised at the University of Michigan,” they said.
After all, it’s debatable whether the IBM computer qualifies as a true microcomputer. Unlike the Michigan Micro Mote, which preserved its programming even when it wasn’t externally powered, the IBM device lost all of its programming and data as soon as it turned off. According to David Blaauw, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Michigan who worked on creating the newest tiny device, “it’s more of a question of opinion whether they have the basic functionality required.” If the IBM machine was considered a computer, University of Michigan would fight to reclaim the title because their newest microdevice is smaller than a grain of rice and measures just 0.3 mm on each side.
The gadget was made to be a precise temperature sensor that can record cell cluster temperatures with a 0.1 degree Celsius error. “When we first developed our millimeter system, we actually had no idea how many different applications it would have. Yet, as soon as we released it, we began to get dozens and dozens and dozens of questions, Blaauw stated. For example, it might monitor oil reservoirs, carry out auditory or visual surveillance, assess the temperature of tumors and carry out various cancer investigations, or aid in “small snail studies.”