World's smallest computer: IBM's fraud-fighter is so tiny it's almost invisible

IBM has big ambitions for its barely visible computer, including helping combat fraud with blockchain tech.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

Video: Blockchain blockbuster: IBM's payment system is a first

IBM has unveiled a computer so small it can slip through a salt shaker and could help prevent the $600bn a year trade in counterfeit drugs, gadgets, and cash.

The company announced the new microcomputer on Monday at its Think conference and predicts it will play a key role in a blockchain network designed to monitor fraud in global supply chains.

The microscopic computer is one square millimeter in size and will act as a so-called 'crypto-anchor' in anti-fraud systems.

IBM says the devices cost just 10 cents to manufacture and contain "several hundred thousand transistors, storage, power, and communications capabilities all packed into a footprint about the size of a grain of salt".

IBM hasn't revealed specifications for the computer yet, but a spokesperson told ZDNet that each of the devices is as powerful as an x86 chip from the 1990s.

IBM researchers at the Thomas J Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, NY, will detail the computers in a forthcoming paper. In the meantime, IBM has offered a rough outline of the computer's schematics.

The photo below shows 64 motherboards. Two of the world's smallest computers are the raised cubes in the top-left corner, which are mounted on the motherboard beneath.

IBM reckons the dramatic fall in cost and size of the computers will make it possible to integrate them into products to ensure goods are authentic as they move through the supply chain and on to consumers.

See also: What is blockchain? Understanding the technology and the revolution (free PDF)

The tiny solar-powered computers IBM designed would be embedded in products and rely on LED lights to communicate with a network. Businesses could ensure and prove the authenticity of each product or component with one of IBM's computers in it.

The first of these tiny computers could be available for customers within 18 months, according to IBM, which sees them playing a role in food safety, pharmaceuticals, manufacturing, genetically modified goods, expensive wines, and in the luxury goods market.

It builds on its existing crypto-anchor systems based on an optical structure that can be placed on product labels and used as digital fingerprints.


Two of the world's smallest computers are the raised cubes in the top-left corner.

Image: IBM

Previous and related coverage

IBM's big quantum push: Samsung, Daimler sign up for 20-qubit test drive

IBM invites customers to build applications on its new 20-qubit system, as 50 qubits loom on the horizon.

IBM, Walmart, JD.com and Tsinghua University eye blockchain for food supply chain safety in China

The four entities aim to create a standard for collecting data on origin, safety and authenticity of food using blockchain technology for traceability.

IBM outlines 50 qubit quantum computing prototype

IBM continues to make strides in its effort to commercialize quantum computing.

Alibaba puts quantum computing in the public cloud, follows Intel and IBM's lead(TechRepublic)

Alibaba has just announced an 11 qubit quantum computer as part of its cloud offerings, making it the second-fastest public quantum computing platform in the world.

Google says Bristlecone chip could ignite quantum computing (CNET)

Google's quantum computing effort takes a big step forward, and the company thinks a prototype could outdo conventional machines in some tasks.

Editorial standards