The M3 shown on the edge of a nickel.

After ten long, arduous years of research and labor, the University of Michigan announced that it has accomplished a whole lot of not much. More accurately, they have made a significant advance, but since it’s about the width of the side of a nickel and shorter than a grain of rice, the University’s computer project isn’t much to look at (mostly because it looks like a piece of scrap unless everybody squints). Still, upon further investigation, the Michigan Micro Mote (M3), as it’s called in higher circles, is an impressive bit of byte.

The M3 operates through interactions between stacked layers. From the glass bottom to the top of the computer, the layers are the battery, a Phoenix microprocessor and memory, a power stabilization system, battery charging control, and a radio system. Above the radio layer rests a lens, which captures high density strobe lights that send data to be processed in the processor layer, then converted and transmitted by the radio transceiver to a separate unit. Presently, the computers are simple, restricted to sending and receiving preprogrammed signals, and their ability to communicate with one another is minimal. However, researchers hope to make improvements that will allow more useful tasks. Flashing a strobe light in a specified pattern and eliciting a desired response from a miniscule computer isn’t good enough for anyone.

At less than 2mm long, the M3 is intended to do everything from finding car keys to measuring intracranial pressure (especially helpful if one’s car keys were lodged in one’s skull). Ideally, they will be able to communicate with other M3 devices in the future so that a large group can be deployed and able to function as a whole. For example, the M3 is small enough to inject into the body, so if many were injected, they would be able to communicate well enough to monitor several systems and give intelligent feedback. Until then, prudence asks that we remember where the car keys are.

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