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Researchers Cram Computer on Pen Tip

By - Source: University of Michigan | B 30 comments

Researchers have created a millimeter-scale computing system with wireless network connectivity.

Wednesday researchers at the University of Michigan revealed that they have constructed the first prototype for a millimeter-scale computing system. Called Phoenix, the SoC is targeted toward the medical field and will be first used as a implantable eye pressure monitor for glaucoma patients.

During the International Solid-State Circuits Conference (ISSCC) in San Francisco, the three researchers behind Phoenix said that the overall package measures just one cubic millimeter, and contains an ultra low-power microprocessor, a pressure sensor, memory, a thin-film battery and a solar cell. Phoenix also contains a wireless radio with an antenna that can transmit data to an external reader device held up near the eye.

"This is the first true millimeter-scale complete computing system," said professor Dennis Sylvester from the university's Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. "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."

Sylvester said that the Phoenix SoC--currently in its 3rd generation--can store up to a week's worth of information. It also achieves ultra-low power consumption thanks to a unique power gating architecture and an extreme sleep mode. The latest model wakes every 15 minutes to take measurements within the eye, consuming an average 5.3 nanowatts. The battery recharges by consuming 10 hours of indoor light or 1.5 hours of direct sunlight.

As for the chip's micro radio, it features an on-chip antenna that doesn't require a bulky external crystal for two-way communication. Instead, it can automatically tune in to any wireless frequency that's available so that it can download stored information to an external reader. "This is the first integrated antenna that also serves as its own reference," said assistant professor David Wentzloff. "The radio on our chip doesn't need external tuning. Once you deploy a network of these, they'll automatically align at the same frequency."

The professors point to Bell's Law which says there is a new class of smaller, cheaper computers nearly each decade. The Phoenix SoS could mark the start of the next wave, powering millimeter-scale systems and networks. "Because they're so small, you could manufacture hundreds of thousands on one wafer," they said. "There could be 10s to 100s of them per person and it's this per capita increase that fuels the semiconductor industry's growth."

To learn more about Phoenix, head here.

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  • 0 Hide
    verbalizer , February 24, 2011 7:23 PM
    next up flying cars..
  • 5 Hide
    theshonen8899 , February 24, 2011 7:29 PM
    I hope that's not just a giant penny.
  • 6 Hide
    JasonAkkerman , February 24, 2011 7:39 PM
    All it needs is a built in projector to display images on the inside of your eye.

    Now that's augmented reality.
  • Display all 30 comments.
  • 2 Hide
    mp562 , February 24, 2011 7:49 PM
    So long Micro ATX, hello Pen Tip ATX.
  • 1 Hide
    robochump , February 24, 2011 7:54 PM
    malmentalnext up flying cars..

    Hell naw!!! Idiots can barely drive on the ground as is. Well then again there are many places that should thin out the herd so to speak...hah!
  • 2 Hide
    sabot00 , February 24, 2011 8:47 PM
    5.3 nW, that's nice.
  • 0 Hide
    JOSHSKORN , February 24, 2011 9:28 PM
    Can it play Crysis? LOL sorry, had to.

    Seriously, could it handle Hangman or Solitaire? What CAN it do?
  • 4 Hide
    Anonymous , February 24, 2011 9:37 PM
    Next you will be swallowing these in pill form and your toilet will report back the state of your digestive system!
  • 2 Hide
    dalauder , February 24, 2011 9:37 PM
    Yay Nanobots! Eventually they'll be able to repair Michael Jordan's joints with nanobots in time for his scheduled 3rd NBA comeback in 2029. I forget what source predicted his comeback, but it seemed reliable when I read it.
  • -8 Hide
    Anonymous , February 24, 2011 9:37 PM
    JOSHSKORN 02/25/2011 12:28 PM

    Can it play Crysis? LOL sorry, had to.

    Seriously, could it handle Hangman or Solitaire? What CAN it do?

  • 0 Hide
    bv90andy , February 24, 2011 9:37 PM
    eye pressure monitor? Surely there must be a cheaper way... an analog way.
  • 0 Hide
    guerilla_logic , February 24, 2011 9:46 PM
    Where are the dual x16 slots for my 580's?
  • 1 Hide
    mikem_90 , February 24, 2011 10:18 PM
    bv90andyeye pressure monitor? Surely there must be a cheaper way... an analog way.

    Yep. First we put eye drops in your eyes to dilate them, keep you in a dark room so you don't go blind, sit you in front of a big machine that puffs air at your eye and measures your eye pressure, then send you home with a neat new pair of plastic cut out shades!

    Granted you would not want all that implanted in your eyeball...
  • 1 Hide
    mikem_90 , February 24, 2011 10:19 PM
    guerilla_logicWhere are the dual x16 slots for my 580's?

    On x58 chipset motherboards?
  • 1 Hide
    christop , February 24, 2011 10:55 PM
    That's Cool..
  • 3 Hide
    dalauder , February 24, 2011 11:27 PM
    I get mad at dumbass Americans, but that was uncalled for. He was just toying around. If you hate Americans, say that--and it's probably justified--we do a lot of screwed up stuff. But don't rip on a guy just trying to make a non-offensive joke.

    It would be cool if it could play Crysis. Instead it just does medical stuff-which is pretty boring until I'm the one that's sick.
  • 0 Hide
    NightLight , February 25, 2011 12:06 AM
    well hello universal translator :p 
  • -2 Hide
    tripplenipple1224 , February 25, 2011 12:40 AM
  • 0 Hide
    amk09 , February 25, 2011 1:20 AM
    guerilla_logicWhere are the dual x16 slots for my 580's?

    Not only is that a stupid question, it is stupid to spend $1000 on an unnecessary graphics solution that will be pathetic in a few years.

    Small/low watt/high performance is the future, you are going to have to learn to accept that.
  • 4 Hide
    jamoise , February 25, 2011 2:16 AM
    the new eyephone
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