The Computer That’s Smaller Than An Ant

By Andrew Handley on Saturday, November 9, 2013
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“None preaches better than the ant, and she says nothing.” —Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard’s Almanack

In A Nutshell

The KLO2 chip is a fully functional computer, complete with a processor, RAM, and memory—and each side is only 2 millimeters (.078 in.) long. That’s smaller than the common black ant, which averages about 3–5 millimeters (0.12–0.2 in.) in length.

The Whole Bushel

In the field of advancing computer technology, the basic goal is simple: Make computers more powerful, and make them smaller. The computer generally recognized as the “world’s smallest PC” is the CuBox, a small cube that measures 50 millimeters (1.96 in.) to a side. That’s pretty tiny, and it manages to pack in a gigabyte of RAM and an 800MHz processor. For comparison, a typical desktop computer typically has between two and eight gigabytes of RAM, and somewhere around 3GHz of processing power.

With the KLO2, things just got smaller. A lot smaller. Developed by a company called Freescale, the entire computer consists of a square chip that’s only 2 millimeters (.078 in.) on each side. That’s smaller than your average ant or, to give it a more ready comparison, about the size of a letter in this sentence. Since it’s so small, it doesn’t have a lot of power—only 4 kilobytes of RAM—but it still contains everything a computer needs to be, well, a computer. Tacked onto the micro-scale chip is a processor, a memory unit, a power switch, and a wireless Bluetooth transmitter to either send or receive signals.

The wireless bit is important, because according to Freescale, this is a computer small enough to be swallowed—and they’re not just making a random comparison. One of the main proposed purposes of the KLO2 chip is as a microcontroller that can be ingested by a person. Why? For one thing, it could regulate the release of medication. Or it could sense blood sugar levels for diabetics, or monitor toxin build-up in your liver. Alternatively, it could be embedded under your skin to control other devices, like your phone.

But the real scope of the KLO2 is much broader—it’s part of a growing trend known as the Internet of Things. In a nutshell, it’s the goal of connecting everything through the internet. If you were using the KLO2 chip to monitor your blood sugar, you wouldn’t remove it every time you wanted a reading—you’d access the information via a web browser. In the Internet of Things, everything is slowly learning to communicate with everything else, and each individual thing has its own IP address. A chip in your shoes could communicate the distance you’ve walked to a chip in your wrist measuring your heart rate, and they’d both communicate with your phone, which would display the information for you.

That’s just an example, but it’s a very real direction in which computer connectivity is moving. We’re wirelessly linking physical objects and giving them a virtual representation. Millimeter-scale computers like the KLO2 chip provide the connection point, and they’re capable of sending and receiving information from other things with no human input. Right now there are about 10 billion devices connected with each other, and it’s estimated that there will be more than 30 billion parts of the entire Internet of Things by 2020.

Show Me The Proof

Wired: Freescale’s Insanely Tiny ARM Chip Will Put the Internet of Things Inside Your Body
Latest tiny computer chip could go in toys, shoes – and you
More Than 30 Billion Devices Will Wirelessly Connect to the Internet of Everything in 2020