Photo: Joseph Xu/Michigan Engineering

World's Smallest Computer Created At University of Michigan -- Not So Fast, IBM

Enter the Michigan Micro Mote.

June 28, 2018 - 3:46 pm

(WWJ) In the photos, it looks like a giant orb the size of the moon. In reality, it's a single grain of rice.

Nestled in the shadow of that grain is what looks like a tiny metal box, a suitcase for an ant, with a couple of pint-sized paper clips soldered on.

It's the world's smallest computer, and it was created in Ann Arbor at the University of Michigan. 

After IBM crowed that it had created the world's tiniest processing device -- sending headlines around the world -- Michigan stepped in with the proverbial "not so fast." Enter the Michigan Micro Mote.

"IBM’s claim calls for a re-examination of what constitutes a computer," U-M wrote in a news story. "Previous systems, including the 2x2x4mm Michigan Micro Mote, retain their programing and data even when they are not externally powered. Unplug a desktop computer, and its program and data are still there when it boots itself up once the power is back. These new micro devices, from IBM and now Michigan, lose all prior programming and data as soon as they lose power."

So IBM called its device, which is larger than Michigan's, the world's smallest computer. And now U-M is saying if theirs is a computer then the even more infinitesimal device generated there is, in fact, the smallest of its kind.

Michigan's computer is about 1/10th the size of IBM’s.

What could it be used for? U-M's device was created for use in cancer treatment after some evidence seemed to show that tumors run hotter than other in the body. "The computer can report temperatures in minuscule regions—such as a cluster of cells—with an error of about 0.1 degrees Celsius," U-M reported

It could have many other uses, researchers reported, which are just being explored.

“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,” said David Blaauw, a professor of electrical and computer engineering, who led the development of the new system.