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World's smallest microchip could be yours to swallow

By Cait Orton | Posted - Mar 1st, 2013 @ 7:46pm

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SALT LAKE CITY — Our devices and bodies are one step closer to being connected through technology, thanks to a microchip small enough to swallow.

Freescale announced the Kinetis KL02 chip Monday, though they gave few details on the actual purpose or customer that drove the invention. However, the intent to push this chip as ingestible technology was clear.

"We are working with our customers and partners on providing technology for their products that can be swallowed but we can't really comment on unannounced products," Steve Tateosian, global product marketing manager, said in an interview with Wired.

It's essentially a micro-computer, and one speculation is that it could be used to monitor people's health, like many of Freescale's current ventures. Their chips are already used in Fitbit products to track sleep and health, as well as Omnipod insulin pumps.

The Kl02 chip has the essential parts of a computer — a full microcontroller unit, including a processor, RAM, ROM, a clock I/O control unit — but at a much smaller size.

Product details include a 32-bit ARM Cortex-M0+ core and 32 KB flash with 64 byte flash cache, up to 4 KB RAM. The chip measures at a tiny 1.9mm by 2mm, making it the world's smallest ARM powered microcontroller.

"(A) topic that is often speculated about is the world of sensors and that we can swallow, either to see what is going on from the inside or to deliver drugs to exactly the part of our digestive system for the greatest effect," said Richard York, director of ARM's Embedded Processor Products, in a company blog post. "Tiny micros are going to be essential to make such things reality."

York also introduced the idea of using this new chip in kitchen cutlery as a way to tell people when to stop eating, adding that there's no end to creative uses for the microchip.

While a chip this small paves way for new uses and ways to connect objects, microcontrollers are already a commonality in day-to-day gadgets. They're found in tablets, smartphones, coffeemakers, shoes and other smart devices and objects, making microcontrollers an object of high demand. But ARM chip technology is constantly changing: ARM processor technology was recently tweaked to improve battery life on tablets and smartphones.

Photo Credit: Freescale

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