A computer two square millimeters is the first step in an initiative to create chips that can bring computing anywhere, and make the Internet of Things becomes a reality.
The small microcontroller KL02, manufactured by Freescale, has been created in order to produce ingestible wireless computers, which contains a processor(efficient energy use) and RAM.
For the Internet to reach everywhere from the pills we eat until we fit shoes, computers will have to be much smaller. A new microchip two square millimeters and containing almost all the components of a computer running tiny, represents a promising start.
“The Internet of Things is the latest in services: for example, the thermostat could connect to the Internet and know when you’re coming home, but the technology in which these [services] is based is closely related to the processing and sensors,” says Kaivan Karimi, director of global strategy for Freescale microcontrollers.
For the connected sensors to spread around the world around us, these technologies must reduce its size, power consumption and price, said Karimi. Freescale bet that one of the best ways is to integrate, on a single chip, components such as processors, memory, sensors, radios and antennas typically placed along a circuit board.
Freescale will begin offering the KL02, and some slightly larger microcontroller with Zigbee or Bluetooth wireless transceiver embedded later this year. Wireless connectivity is added by addition of the inside of a radio chip to current designs. The company is also working to perfect the chip packaging technology and other components that allow the creation of many more computers to millimeter scale.
“All these things need to come together and integrate heterogeneous but we have to figure out how these components can coexist without degrading its performance,” says Karimi.
He added that the attach sensors and other components creates difficulties because each produce their own type of electronic noise that can interfere with the operation of other components. It is an area of engineering chips that has suddenly become more important than processing power. “It’s a matter of packaging, there is a problem with Moore’s law, and the final version requires different types of miniaturized packaging technology than those we have used in the past,” says Karimi.
One of the challenges in chip design is compact flash memory, the one used in smart phones, creates interference with radio chips. In those chips small enough to avoid the problem, Freescale engineers have designed tiny Faraday cages around memory to turn this electronic noise.
Freescale betting that a technology known as redistributive chip packaging (RCP, for its acronym in English), largely developed by the company, will be overcome similar problems. It has been used for some years in defense systems requiring very compact electronics and able to withstand extreme heat and pressure. “There is a technology futurist, because parts of it have already been present in very specific applications,” said Karimi. “Create package with a small footprint area, and in the future this technology will migrate to [use of] consumer, industrial and automotive.”
However, remember that packaging Dutta alone can not solve all the problems related to the creation of tiny computers multifunctional, and claims that he will necessary to work on the components they are by packaging together. We have to pay close attention to all the system components, ie, sensors, computing, wireless communications, data storage and energy conversion, and power consumption is one of the more specific difficulties. As the length [of a miniature computer] is reduced, the volume decreases cubic form, ie battery capacity drops rapidly. This is a problem that is facing Dutta in sensor design project within only equipped with one cubic millimeter in size.
Karimi agrees with that batteries are a problem, and notes that Freescale is working with several partners in development of energy harvesting components (from the heat, radio waves or light) that could provide power for very small devices size.
Freescale is the only chip company sees profit potential in supplying chips for a new wave of sensors and other small computers that send data to the Internet. The chip company KL02 is based on a design by ARM announced last year as the most energy efficient microprocessor world, which other companies are also getting licenses. However, Karimi indicates that RCP packaging technology, crucial for the ambitions of Freescale, is protected by patents.
Written by Tom Simonite