“…microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) — the technology of very tiny computers. MEMS are also called “smart dust,” and Dutta’s dust is the smallest known to humankind. Dutta is part of the Michigan Micro Mote, or M3, project at the University of Michigan, and M3 is on the cusp of releasing the blueprints for the “motes,” as Dutta calls them. As soon as the motes get approved by the University’s licensing office — which will happen any day now, says Dutta — M3 will release the blueprints on their mbus.io website, so that nimble-fingered researchers, hackers and Maker Faire enthusiasts alike might begin to build them. After years of trial and error, smart dust, long predicted by members of the scientific community, is finally here.
…The race to build the world’s smallest computer has been in the works since UC Berkeley professor Kristofer Pister coined the phase “smart dust” in 1997, back when Apple computers were the size of large lapdogs, and smart dust the stuff of fan-boy fiction. Pister envisioned a future where pinhead-sized computers would blanket the earth like a neural cloud, relaying real-time data about people and the environment. Each particle of “dust” would function as a single autonomous computer: a tiny bundle of power, sensor, computing and communication chips that could incorporate and relay information about their environment, perform basic data-processing and communicate with one other, using almost zero energy consumption. And each computer would be no larger than one cubic millimeter in size.
…So Blaauw, Sylvester and Dutta sketched plans for what would become the M3 project. They worked from the top down, meaning that they’d design one system entirely before any coding began, and they built the motes to operate on a power budget of mere nanowatts. They created new circuit structures for RAM and for dealing with heat, and created new ways of processing and programming, done optically and using strobes. The result was a wireless mote consisting of several fleck-like modules that autonomously subsisted on minute amounts of energy harvested from heat or light via photovoltaic cells.”
Next up, SmartSpecks the size of micrometers. The potential applications from military to medical are vast, amazing and potentially disturbing.