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Technology Hardware

The Crazy-Tiny Next Generation of Computers 104

An anonymous reader writes University of Michigan professors are about to release the design files for a one-cubic-millimeter computer, or mote. They have finally reached a goal set in 1997, when UC Berkeley professor Kristopher Pister coined the term "smart dust" and envisioned computers blanketing the Earth. Such motes are likely to play a key role in the much-ballyhooed Internet of Things. From the article: "When Prabal Dutta accidentally drops a computer, nothing breaks. There’s no crash. The only sound you might hear is a prolonged groan. That’s because these computers are just one cubic millimeter in size, and once they hit the floor, they’re gone. 'We just lose them,' Dutta says. 'It’s worse than jewelry.' To drive the point home, Dutta, an assistant professor of electrical engineering at the University of Michigan, emails me a photo of 50 of these computers. They barely fill a thimble halfway to its brim."
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The Crazy-Tiny Next Generation of Computers

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  • by Jason Levine ( 196982 ) on Wednesday April 15, 2015 @04:51PM (#49481255) Homepage

    Great. There are some days where I forget where I've put my smartphone. So now I can expect to lose my entire computer because it dropped and I might have vacuumed it up with the dust bunnies?

    • Unless/until all connections (including power) are wireless, you'll never have a 1mm cube "computer". There's no way to fit all your I/O and power input, in that much space. Where do you plug in the keyboard?
      • Didn't you see the two golden buttons in the pic? The left is for ones, and the right for zeros. This literally is a computer for ants...

        But a bit more to the point, the power issue is explained in TFA. Couldn't see anything on IO, but my first thought was something similar to RFID.

      • Of course you can. You just need a $10M wirebonder to connect the IO to the computer.

      • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) *

        TFA shouldn't really call them computers, they are embedded platforms based on a system-on-chip and having some support hardware like a power supply and antenna in the same package. They could potentially be useful in things like medical data logging applications where you might coat one in something protective and swallow it. Maybe combine it would some kind of energy harvesting and it could live indefinitely under your skin.

    • No, you just need a networked vacuum cleaner and then you can still access the computer remotely on your own personal cloud...
      • by TheBAFH ( 68624 )

        No, you just need a networked vacuum cleaner and then you can still access the computer remotely on your own personal cloud...

        ... of dust.

    • by GNious ( 953874 )

      So now I can expect to lose my entire computer because it dropped and I might have vacuumed it up with the dust bunnies?

      Now we know where Skylink will actually start - in the waste and landfills, full of vacuumed-up micro-computers.

      • Skylink?

        You're most likely thinking of Skynet [wikipedia.org], but you could also be reffering to Sky Lynx [tfwiki.net] of Transformers G1. Despite what Sky Lynx's ego would say, you're probably referring to Skynet.

    • Great. There are some days where I forget where I've put my smartphone. So now I can expect to lose my entire computer because it dropped and I might have vacuumed it up with the dust bunnies?

      Today we have computers collecting dust. In the future we will have dust collecting computers.

  • Imagine! (Score:3, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 15, 2015 @04:52PM (#49481261)

    a [drool] beowulf cluster of these!

  • Never never, undock your computer!

  • "Such motes are likely to play a key role in the much-ballyhooed Internet of Things..."

    Yes, yes of course. I'm sure they are.

    "Private IoT reporting for duty, Sir!"

    "Hello Private! I would ask why you are here, but apparently the rest of us don't really have a fucking clue either..."

    Funny how we're already labeling their role as key when we don't even really know what the mission of IoT is anyway, other than driving capitalism through PT Barnum marketing ideology.

  • by nytes ( 231372 )

    No Beowulf clusters yet?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I read about this a week ago. I was not impressed. Basically a lot of marketing bullshit and no huge breakthroughs.

    Strip any small CPU of it's plastic and guess what you have? Well, a tiny silicon die.

    They will release the blueprint so that anyone with a $50 million lab can build them? How nice...

    And they think these things are going to measure the real energy costs of my house? I have news for you. The energy costs of all houses in the world have probably doubled only because of all the projects to measure

  • by Doug Otto ( 2821601 ) on Wednesday April 15, 2015 @04:58PM (#49481297)
    Dust on the desktop! Oh wait, I already have that.

    /shuffles around....
  • Here the comment about them http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R... [wikipedia.org]
    Next step entire world dominition.

    • These need power though. Sure, a small as a mote of sand, but the battery will be relatively very large. Watch battery sized or larger most likely. And absolutely not a consumer toy that you plug in to recharge every night.

  • Still vapor (Score:3, Informative)

    by Dracos ( 107777 ) on Wednesday April 15, 2015 @05:13PM (#49481383)

    That article is all about the miniaturization process they went through. Wake me up when the hardware specs are available: CPU speed, amount of RAM, wireless connectivity and range, etc.

    I have serious doubts that these things will become popular anytime soon (if ever), especially if their per-unit cost is more than a few cents. Their size, coupled with the "if you lose sight of it, consider it lost forever" joke (read: warning), makes them seem impractical.

    They should scale it back up to the size of that quarter.

    • Vapor implies humidity. We can call this dustware...

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      I'll be really excited when they've scaled it down to the size of vapor. Then we can have REAL "cloud computing!"

      However, this isn't really a computer, as it still needs a power source and I/O. It's just a small wafer of etched silicon until it has those things.

      If they used this as the basis for an environment-powered computer and it contained bluetooth and/or WiFi capabilities as well as decent storage, this could be interesting. Get a bunch of these self-powering in a mesh network and you've got someth

      • by Khyber ( 864651 )

        That octagon functions as a transmitter/receiver for I/O and Power. Only needing ~40nanowatts of power to operate means it can pretty much run off ubiquitous stray wi-fi/radio, as whatever frequencies and harmonics that antenna can receive.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I have serious doubts that these things will become popular anytime soon (if ever), especially if their per-unit cost is more than a few cents.

      I can't wait for a computer to be embedded in every ball bearing to store rpm, load, and vibration data or wirelessly upload it.

      Massive amounts of money could be saved with preemptive maintenance and defect analysis if we had ubiquitous sensor data.

    • by elistan ( 578864 )
      Whatever the computing power (CPU, RAM...) is now, you can expect it to be greater in the future.

      Whatever the price is now, you can expect to be less in the future. Ten bucks each (just an illustrative number, I really have no idea) right now because they're made by hand? Could be in 10 or 20 years you'll get 10k units for your ten bucks as they roll off a mass-assembly line.

      Moore's Law and all.

      Don't think of this as a consumer oriented coin-sized desktop with a popular brand's logon on it that you
    • MCU looks to be an ARM Cortex M0, but flash or SRAM aren't stated. I would guess 8k to 64k of flash and 2k to 8k of SRAM which is typical for low-end MO's. There also seems to be a 900 Mhz wireless option, but no range specified. Not too shabby. I expected a lot less capable MCU for the 1st generation. Even just a few feet of wireless range could be very useful for some interesting applications.

      • by itzly ( 3699663 )

        I expected a lot less capable MCU for the 1st generation.

        The ARM Cortex series can be easily modified for the newest semiconductor processes. That makes for a smaller and less power hungry device than an older MCU made on an older process.

    • by dbIII ( 701233 )

      That article is all about the miniaturization process they went through. Wake me up when the hardware specs are available: CPU speed, amount of RAM, wireless connectivity and range, etc.

      I will show you DOOM in a handful of dust.
      Or would you prefer Wolfenstein?

    • How about medical applications? 1mm^3 is actually small enough to be put in a pill and go through your digestive system. Cover it in some glass coating to avoid acid from melting it, swallow a bunch over a number of time intervals, have sensors on the surface that measure whatever can be measured and you may have some interesting results. It is still too big to be injected into your blood stream, need to shrink it another 10-100 times to do that I guess, but it is an interesting way to develop computing b

    • by Khyber ( 864651 )

      Get yourself glasses. That's a nickel. Quarters have scores all the way around, like dimes.

  • OBLIG XKCD (Score:5, Funny)

    by roc97007 ( 608802 ) on Wednesday April 15, 2015 @05:20PM (#49481409) Journal

    You knew [xkcd.com] there was one.

  • Where is Moores law?

    Where the hell do you plug in a keyboard and mouse? Wheres the display port? Where's the network connector?
    • Re:What? (Score:5, Funny)

      by cdrudge ( 68377 ) on Wednesday April 15, 2015 @05:42PM (#49481567) Homepage

      Where the hell do you plug in a keyboard and mouse? Wheres the display port? Where's the network connector?

      God damnit Apple. Quit changing your fucking connector specs every fricking new device. I'm getting really tired of having to buy all new cables Every. Single. Time.

  • another step toward the deadly "gray goo", Once they self assemble....
  • Vernor Vinge [wikipedia.org] wrote a novel in 1992 that referred to technology like this as dust motes.

  • He's going to get a lot of notes.

  • Revolution anyone?

  • We just lose them

    This will be great for security. /sarcasm

  • by NostalgiaForInfinity ( 4001831 ) on Wednesday April 15, 2015 @10:23PM (#49482861)

    The concept of smart dust is much older than Pister and the 1990's. Stanislaw Lem used the idea already in the early 1960's in his stories.

    • by quax ( 19371 )

      Thanks for pointing this out, that this seems to be mostly forgotten rubbed me the wrong way, too.

      Especially since Lem really gamed out how this will change warfare.

  • I spent the last hour thinking up applications for this stuff. Nearly all of them are bad for humans in the long run, both for individuals and society.
  • by ThatsNotPudding ( 1045640 ) on Thursday April 16, 2015 @07:50AM (#49484261)
    This is the year of the Linux Dust Top!
  • by ArcadeMan ( 2766669 ) on Thursday April 16, 2015 @08:33AM (#49484465)

    To drive the point home, Dutta, an assistant professor of electrical engineering at the University of Michigan, emails me a photo of 50 of these computers. They barely fill a thimble halfway to its brim.

    And just to annoy everyone reading my article, I didn't even bother to include that particular photo in it.

Logic is a pretty flower that smells bad.

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