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 Researchers illuminate the path to a new era of microelectronics
23.04.2018 | Boston University College of Engineering

nachricht Researchers achieve HD video streaming at 10,000 times lower power
20.04.2018 | University of Washington

All articles from Information Technology >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Molecules Brilliantly Illuminated

Physicists at the Laboratory for Attosecond Physics, which is jointly run by Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität and the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, have developed a high-power laser system that generates ultrashort pulses of light covering a large share of the mid-infrared spectrum. The researchers envisage a wide range of applications for the technology – in the early diagnosis of cancer, for instance.

Molecules are the building blocks of life. Like all other organisms, we are made of them. They control our biorhythm, and they can also reflect our state of...

Im Focus: Spider silk key to new bone-fixing composite

University of Connecticut researchers have created a biodegradable composite made of silk fibers that can be used to repair broken load-bearing bones without the complications sometimes presented by other materials.

Repairing major load-bearing bones such as those in the leg can be a long and uncomfortable process.

Im Focus: Writing and deleting magnets with lasers

Study published in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces is the outcome of an international effort that included teams from Dresden and Berlin in Germany, and the US.

Scientists at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) together with colleagues from the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (HZB) and the University of Virginia...

Im Focus: Gamma-ray flashes from plasma filaments

Novel highly efficient and brilliant gamma-ray source: Based on model calculations, physicists of the Max PIanck Institute for Nuclear Physics in Heidelberg propose a novel method for an efficient high-brilliance gamma-ray source. A giant collimated gamma-ray pulse is generated from the interaction of a dense ultra-relativistic electron beam with a thin solid conductor. Energetic gamma-rays are copiously produced as the electron beam splits into filaments while propagating across the conductor. The resulting gamma-ray energy and flux enable novel experiments in nuclear and fundamental physics.

The typical wavelength of light interacting with an object of the microcosm scales with the size of this object. For atoms, this ranges from visible light to...

Im Focus: Basel researchers succeed in cultivating cartilage from stem cells

Stable joint cartilage can be produced from adult stem cells originating from bone marrow. This is made possible by inducing specific molecular processes occurring during embryonic cartilage formation, as researchers from the University and University Hospital of Basel report in the scientific journal PNAS.

Certain mesenchymal stem/stromal cells from the bone marrow of adults are considered extremely promising for skeletal tissue regeneration. These adult stem...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Invitation to the upcoming "Current Topics in Bioinformatics: Big Data in Genomics and Medicine"

13.04.2018 | Event News

Unique scope of UV LED technologies and applications presented in Berlin: ICULTA-2018

12.04.2018 | Event News

IWOLIA: A conference bringing together German Industrie 4.0 and French Industrie du Futur

09.04.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Structured light and nanomaterials open new ways to tailor light at the nanoscale

23.04.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

On the shape of the 'petal' for the dissipation curve

23.04.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Clean and Efficient – Fraunhofer ISE Presents Hydrogen Technologies at the HANNOVER MESSE 2018

23.04.2018 | Trade Fair News

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>