With computer technology forever striving towards smaller and smaller form factors, it was only a matter of time before engineers created the first millimetre-scale computer system, ready for implantation in the human body.
Created by University of Michigan Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science professors Dennis Sylvester and David Blaauw, the tiny computer system measures in a just over one cubic millimetre. Within that cubic millimetre they’ve packed an ultra-low-power microprocessor, a pressure sensor, memory, a thin-film battery, a solar cell and a wireless radio complete with antenna. The radio will be used to broadcast data to an external unit held near the user’s eye.
Did I mention this computer is for implanting inside the eye?
Sylvester and Blaauw have created the miniscule system with eyes in mind. The low powered system will wake every 15 minutes to read internal eye data in order to track the progress of glaucoma, a disease that often leads to blindness. On average the system consumes only 5.3 nanowatts, and keeping the system charged requires 10 hours of indoor light or one-and-a-half hours of sunlight per day. The technology is expected to be available commercially within the next few years.
Charting glaucoma is just one of many medical applications these new miniature computing systems could be applied to.
“This is the first true millimeter-scale complete computing system,” Sylvester said.
“Our work is unique in the sense that we’re thinking about complete systems in which all the components are low-power and fit on the chip. We can collect data, store it and transmit it. The applications for systems of this size are endless.”
Coupled with new millimetre-scale wireless radio technology created by professor David Wentzloff and doctoral student Kuo-Ken Huang, also of the University of Michigan, there’s no reason why humans couldn’t implant an entire network of tiny computers throughout their bodies, all communicating with one another, working together towards some common goal.
What common goal? I’m thinking superpowers. A man can dream.