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Future Tech: 

The M^3 is an ant-sized computer that could have a big impact

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If you thought that smartphones and tablets were impressively small in size, then wait until you see the world’s tiniest working computer. The Michigan Micro Mote, otherwise known as the M^3, has raised the bar for miniature electronics – or should that be lowered – measuring no bigger than a grain of rice.

After more than ten years in development, a working M^3 has been developed that’s just 1 millimeter cubed – small enough to fit on the edge of a nickel. Believed to be the smallest autonomous computer in the world, it could influence a number of different industries and play an important role in the developing Internet of Things.

“To be ‘complete,’ a computer system must have an input of data, the ability to process that data – meaning process and store it, make decisions about what to do next – and ultimately, the ability to output the data,” said David Blaauw, one of the faculty members who achieved the M^3.

What exactly does it do?

The computer’s size gives it the scope to reach where other computers can’t – for instance, it’s been suggested that the M^3 could be injected into the body to measure temperature and blood pressure, or used in oil wells to detect remaining resources for extraction. What’s more, it could be quite easily connected to your keys, wallet or just about any valuable, so you can track them down should you lose them.

What’s perhaps most interesting about the concept is that its tiny size makes it easier to charge than a regular computer. So, rather than the large batteries found in smartphones, for instance, the M^3 can programmed and charged via light, as researchers beam a high frequency strobe at the computer to send information. The computer then processes the data and sends it back via conventional radio frequencies.

The M^3 is ready for production now, but that hasn’t stopped researchers trying to make even smaller computers. The University of Michigan’s faculty and staff have even talked about creating “smart dust,” although finding someone willing to buy the stuff may prove more tricky.

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