Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Toward Computers That Fit on a Pen Tip: New Technologies Usher in the Millimeter-scale Computing Era

23.02.2011
A prototype implantable eye pressure monitor for glaucoma patients is believed to contain the first complete millimeter-scale computing system.

And a compact radio that needs no tuning to find the right frequency could be a key enabler to organizing millimeter-scale systems into wireless sensor networks. These networks could one day track pollution, monitor structural integrity, perform surveillance, or make virtually any object smart and trackable.

Both developments at the University of Michigan are significant milestones in the march toward millimeter-scale computing, believed to be the next electronics frontier.

Researchers present papers on each today at the International Solid-State Circuits Conference (ISSCC) in San Francisco. The work is being led by three faculty members in the U-M Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science: professors Dennis Sylvester and David Blaauw, and assistant professor David Wentzloff.

Bell's Law and the promise of pervasive computing

Nearly invisible millimeter-scale systems could enable ubiquitous computing, and the researchers say that's the future of the industry. They point to Bell's Law, a corollary to Moore's Law. (Moore's says that the number of transistors on an integrated circuit doubles every two years, roughly doubling processing power.)

Bell's Law says there's a new class of smaller, cheaper computers about every decade. With each new class, the volume shrinks by two orders of magnitude and the number of systems per person increases. The law has held from 1960s' mainframes through the '80s' personal computers, the '90s' notebooks and the new millennium's smart phones.

"When you get smaller than hand-held devices, you turn to these monitoring devices," Blaauw said. "The next big challenge is to achieve millimeter-scale systems, which have a host of new applications for monitoring our bodies, our environment and our buildings. Because they're so small, you could manufacture hundreds of thousands on one wafer. There could be 10s to 100s of them per person and it's this per capita increase that fuels the semiconductor industry's growth."

The first complete millimeter-scale system

Blaauw and Sylvester's new system is targeted toward medical applications. The work they present at ISSCC focuses on a pressure monitor designed to be implanted in the eye to conveniently and continuously track the progress of glaucoma, a potentially blinding disease. (The device is expected to be commercially available several years from now.)

In a package that's just over 1 cubic millimeter, the system fits an ultra low-power microprocessor, a pressure sensor, memory, a thin-film battery, a solar cell and a wireless radio with an antenna that can transmit data to an external reader device that would be held near the eye.

"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."

The processor in the eye pressure monitor is the third generation of the researchers' Phoenix chip, which uses a unique power gating architecture and an extreme sleep mode to achieve ultra-low power consumption. The newest system wakes every 15 minutes to take measurements and consumes an average of 5.3 nanowatts. To keep the battery charged, it requires exposure to 10 hours of indoor light each day or 1.5 hours of sunlight. It can store up to a week's worth of information.

While this system is miniscule and complete, its radio doesn't equip it to talk to other devices like it. That's an important feature for any system targeted toward wireless sensor networks.

A unique compact radio to enable wireless sensor networks

Wentzloff and doctoral student Kuo-Ken Huang have taken a step toward enabling such node-to-node communication. They've developed a consolidated radio with an on-chip antenna that doesn't need the bulky external crystal that engineers rely on today when two isolated devices need to talk to each other. The crystal reference keeps time and selects a radio frequency band. Integrating the antenna and eliminating this crystal significantly shrinks the radio system. Wentzloff's is less than 1 cubic millimeter in size.

He and Huang's key innovation is to engineer the new antenna to keep time on its own and serve as its own reference. By integrating the antenna through an advanced CMOS process, they can precisely control its shape and size and therefore how it oscillates in response to electrical signals.

"Antennas have a natural resonant frequency for electrical signals that is defined by their geometry, much like a pure audio tone on a tuning fork," Wentzloff said. "By designing a circuit to monitor the signal on the antenna and measure how close it is to the antenna's natural resonance, we can lock the transmitted signal to the antenna's resonant frequency."

"This is the first integrated antenna that also serves as its own reference. 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 researchers are now working on lowering the radio's power consumption so that it's compatible with millimeter-scale batteries.

Greg Chen, a doctoral student in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, presents "A Cubic-Millimeter Energy-Autonomous Wireless Intraocular Pressure Monitor." The researchers are collaborating with Ken Wise, the William Gould Dow Distinguished University Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science on the packaging of the sensor, and with Paul Lichter, chair of the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences at the U-M Medical School, for the implantation studies. Huang presents "A 60GHz Antenna-Referenced Frequency-Locked Loop in 0.13ìm CMOS for Wireless Sensor Networks." This research is funded by the National Science Foundation. The university is pursuing patent protection for the intellectual property, and is seeking commercialization partners to help bring the technology to market.

For more information
David Wentzloff: http://www.eecs.umich.edu/~wentzlof/
David Blaauw: http://blaauw.eecs.umich.edu/people.php?u=professor
Dennis Sylvester: http://www.eecs.umich.edu/~dennis/
The University of Michigan College of Engineering is ranked among the top engineering schools in the country. At $180 million annually, its engineering research budget is one of largest of any public university. Michigan Engineering is home to 11 academic departments, numerous research centers and expansive entrepreneurial programs. The College plays a leading role in the Michigan Memorial Phoenix Energy Institute and hosts the world-class Lurie Nanofabrication Facility. Michigan Engineering's premier scholarship, international scale and multidisciplinary scope combine to create The Michigan Difference.

Nicole Casal Moore | Newswise Science News
Further information:
http://www.umich.edu
http://www.engin.umich.edu/

More articles from Information Technology:

nachricht A novel hybrid UAV that may change the way people operate drones
28.03.2017 | Science China Press

nachricht Timing a space laser with a NASA-style stopwatch
28.03.2017 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

All articles from Information Technology >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: A Challenging European Research Project to Develop New Tiny Microscopes

The Institute of Semiconductor Technology and the Institute of Physical and Theoretical Chemistry, both members of the Laboratory for Emerging Nanometrology (LENA), at Technische Universität Braunschweig are partners in a new European research project entitled ChipScope, which aims to develop a completely new and extremely small optical microscope capable of observing the interior of living cells in real time. A consortium of 7 partners from 5 countries will tackle this issue with very ambitious objectives during a four-year research program.

To demonstrate the usefulness of this new scientific tool, at the end of the project the developed chip-sized microscope will be used to observe in real-time...

Im Focus: Giant Magnetic Fields in the Universe

Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.

The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.

Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...

Im Focus: Tracing down linear ubiquitination

Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.

Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...

Im Focus: Perovskite edges can be tuned for optoelectronic performance

Layered 2D material improves efficiency for solar cells and LEDs

In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...

Im Focus: Polymer-coated silicon nanosheets as alternative to graphene: A perfect team for nanoelectronics

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

International Land Use Symposium ILUS 2017: Call for Abstracts and Registration open

20.03.2017 | Event News

CONNECT 2017: International congress on connective tissue

14.03.2017 | Event News

ICTM Conference: Turbine Construction between Big Data and Additive Manufacturing

07.03.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

'On-off switch' brings researchers a step closer to potential HIV vaccine

30.03.2017 | Health and Medicine

Penn studies find promise for innovations in liquid biopsies

30.03.2017 | Health and Medicine

An LED-based device for imaging radiation induced skin damage

30.03.2017 | Medical Engineering

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>