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Tiny-fingered researchers at the University of Michigan have created the computer, the world's first complete millimeter-scale computing system. It is a prototype designed to be implanted in a human eye, to monitor internal pressure there for signs of glaucoma. The machine includes a teeny battery, a consolidated radio and antenna, a pressure sensor, memory, and a rather diminutive processor designed to consume extremely little power.
The new system is targeted toward medical applications, focusing on a pressure monitor designed to be implanted in the eye to conveniently and continuously track the progress of glaucoma, a potentially blinding disease. (The device is expected to be commercially available several years from now.)
In a package that’s just over one cubic millimeter, the system fits an extremely low-power microprocessor, a pressure sensor, memory, a thin-film battery, a solar cell and a wireless radio with an antenna that can transmit data to an external reader device that would be held near the eye.
"This is the first true millimeter-scale complete computing system," said Dennis Sylvester, alsoa professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the University of Michigan.
The processor in the eye pressure monitor is the third generation of the researchers’ Phoenix chip, which uses a unique architecture and an extreme sleep mode to achieve ultra-low power consumption.
The newest system wakes every 15 minutes to take measurements and consumes an average of 5.3 nanowatts. To keep the battery charged, it requires exposure to 10 hours of indoor light each day or 1.5 hours of sunlight. It can store up to a week’s worth of information.
While this system is miniscule and complete, its radio doesn’t equip it to talk to other devices like it. That’s an important feature for any system targeted toward wireless sensor networks.