The next generation of crazy-tiny computers

But Pister’s intelligent dust vision never came to fruition. After leaving the academy to found a company called Dust Networks in early 2003, Pister was derailed by the mechanics of running a company and stopped scaling computers full time. The smallest microcosm his company makes right now is about the size of a block of sugar: good for doing diagnostics on gadgets, bad for brain discovery or anything else that requires very small and unobtrusive presence – qualities required to mesh the Internet of things. “Perhaps my most important contribution is to create a catchy name,” laughed Pister, though he quickly added that Dust Networks was quite successful. “Basically, we are in every refinery around the world and in industrial applications from the Saudi desert to the Arctic Circle,” Pister said.

MEMS’s history goes back almost half a century before the Vietnam War. In 1967, a military operation called Igloo White dropped thousands of sensors disguised as factories along the Ho Chi Minh Trail to track truck movements for the purpose of revealing the activity of the trucks. enemy. In the end the operation failed due to too many false warnings. However, DARPA started funding similar distributed sensor networks around 1980.

By July 1999, Pister had developed a 100-cubic-millimeter mote with an active transmitter. Jason Hill, a colleague of Pister, created the TinyOS operating system to be compatible with Pister’s new wave of motes, combining them with hardware called “Mica” chips, in 2001. Hill also created micro “Spec” in 2002, measuring 2.5 mm on each side and equipped with a radio that can transmit but not receive a signal. Soon after, the matchbox-sized Mica2 Motes were also designed at Berkeley.

It was around the time that Dutta first encountered MEMS technology. An Ohio State graduate was wandering the halls of his alma mater when he saw a group of students working on circuit boards in the lab. To Dutta, the mother cakes placed on the table are like eye candy. So Dutta decided to pursue a master’s degree in electrical engineering and immersed himself in MEMS.

By 2010, Dutta was working at the University of Michigan, where colleagues David Blaauw and Dennis Sylvester have been creating a 1.5 mm³ wonder called Phoenix Chip. Sensor system using solar energy to measure the eye pressure for patients with glaucoma. Dutta was impressed. But he wants to promote “tagging” things in the environment, especially to keep track of scarce natural resources.

So Blaauw, Sylvester, and Dutta outlined the plans for what would become the M3 project. They were working top-down, meaning they would completely design a system before any coding process began, and they built motes to operate on a power source using just wires. nano. They created new circuit structures for RAM and for heat treatment, and created new ways of processing and programming, optically done and using strobe lights. The result is a wireless chip consisting of several spot-like modules that automatically exist on a small amount of energy obtained from heat or light through photovoltaic cells.

Operating at such low energy levels is a huge leap forward for the group’s vision of smart dust. These motors will be too small to be recharged, and once deployed – or dropped to the floor – they may be irrevocable. Therefore, the motes are needed to have a good energy life.

Enter something called MBus. As a chip-to-chip interconnect module for the M3 mote, the MBus enables extremely low standby power consumption of eight nanowatts and reduces the overall IC power consumption by 23%.

M3 talked to corporations about putting smart dust in wearable devices, and they recently founded a for-profit company called CubeWorks. They intend to revamp existing devices by using new energy-harvesting methods, like the Fitbit that needs recharging every six months instead of every few days.

For Pister, Dust Networks has been ten years of distraction compared to the smart dust he wanted to build initially. M3 may hold the record right now, but Pister still feels he has in-game skin. “I want that coat back,” he said. His work on single-chip microchips is in progress. It can provide a lively duel scene in the scientific community, even if it is a very small one.

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