Michigan Micro Mote in reality. (via U of M)
Those fascinated by the Internet of Things phenomena are in for a real treat: a recent study at the University of Michigan led by Professor David Blauuw has engendered the world’s first fully realized microcomputing device (not to be confused with the not-so microcomputers of the late 70’s & early 80’s). These devices, known as the M3 Michigan Micro Motes, are cubic millimeter sized devices capable of carrying out complex computing functions on a chip an incredibly tiny package - rightfully nicknamed “smart dust.”
The Michigan Micro Motes are only the first line of dust-sized prototypes, but are already inspiring a bevy of creative insights for future applications. To start, the devices have tiny CPUs that run a skeleton operating systems with the ability to access memory banks and communicate with onboard sensors. These sensors, for instance, will include low-resolution imagers, signal processors, energy harvesting devices, and batteries. To manufacture the millimeter computing packages, low-cost die stacking and encapsulation techniques will be used.
Though not much power is needed to run internal operations on Micro Motes, the team is still working on giving the devices enough juice to communicate with the outside world. Prabal Dutta, a student team-member, explains that with the current energy plan Micro Motes can perform 100,000 operations but only transmit one bit of information wirelessly. To date, the team has worked on utilizing the device’s flexibility to harvest energy from the environment. For example, a micro sensor close to a light source would use a tiny solar panel to power itself; a device close to a heat source may use thermoelectrics for energy; and, a device near a television may use stray signals for power. With much room for growth (and not in size), the implications of such a device are vast in the real world.
IoT expansion is limited by the actual number of real-world objects equipped with self-communicable sensors - but now imagine an environment coated in these so-called smart dust computers. Some of U of M’s project goals include: equipping buildings, bridges, and other structures with their Micro Motes to provide real-time monitoring of movement; enabling smart house detection of temperature and CO levels; and monitoring health vitals in the form of micro-sized medical implants. One of the more astounding features would be tagging everyday objects with Micro Motes to create a searchable database that can find your smart dust equipped keys if you happen to misplace them.
Of course, those scenarios are still ahead of us until further work is done to improve the efficiency of the micro-computing devices. Nonetheless, U of M’s work offers us a quick glimpse at what will be possible in a world empowered by IoT devices.
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