Computers

The World's Smallest Computer Can Fit on the Tip of a Grain of Rice

The University of Michigan was salty that IBM made a smaller computer than it did, so it made an even smaller computer.

Kaleigh Rogers

Kaleigh Rogers

Image: University of Michigan

In a compelling act of nerd rivalry, engineers at the University of Michigan have created the world’s smallest computer—again.

The University held the record for the smallest computer after it created its 2x2x4mm Michigan Micro Mote in 2014. The Micro Mote (or M3) is fully functional and able to retain its programming and data even when it loses power. But then IBM debuted an even tinier “computer” in February, a 1mm x 1mm chip with “several hundred thousand” transistors. Here it is on a pile of salt, for scale:

Image: IBM

Engineers at the University of Michigan were not about to be one-upped, and quickly created an even smaller computer, so small it could fit on the tip of a grain of rice:

The grain of rice on the left show just how tiny the device, on the right, is. Image: University of Michigan

However, the engineers quibbled over whether IBM’s machine and the new Michigan design could really be called computers, since the data gets wiped as soon as it’s turned off.

“We are not sure if they should be called computers or not,” said David Blaauw, a professor of electrical and computer engineering, who led the development of the new system, in a press release. “It’s more of a matter of opinion whether they have the minimum functionality required.”

But whether or not you can call them a computer, these nanodevices could have wide-ranging uses, especially in medicine where highly accurate sensors that are unobtrusive can help shed new light on disease. Whatever it is, the University of Michigan can proudly claim it has the smallest one in the world.

Get six of our favorite Motherboard stories every day by signing up for our newsletter .