The trend for cyberdecks has brought us many takes on the home-made portable computers, but it’s fair to say that some of them can be rather unwieldy. This is not an accusation you can point at [Smeef] with the Mini-Deck though, because its Raspberry Pi Zero, Adafruit miniature display, and tiny keyboard make the whole unit able to fit in the palm of a hand. We’re not sure we’ve seen one so compact!
The most obvious feature is the keyboard, it’s a DreamGear MiniKey miniature USB keyboard. It doesn’t have all the useful buttons a PC board has, so there’s also a separate set of buttons to cover those. Then there’s an analog stick connected to an Arduino Pro Micro that takes the functionality of a mouse, and an Adafruit Mini PiTFT 1.3″ Display. While a fully-functional display for the Pi, we do wonder if this tiny screen might actually be a bit too tiny to be practical. Power for the unit comes via an 18650 battery, which also functions as a pin for a folding mechanism.
The result is something that looks, feels, and works like a cyberdeck, but all in miniature. It might be a stretch to write a Hackaday piece on a machine like it, but we’re guessing that merely having built something like this is cool enough in itself. Certainly it’s considerably smaller than previous contenders for the smallest build.
How small could you make a computer? In a way, that’s a question that requires that a computer be defined, because you could measure the smallest computer simply in terms of the smallest area of silicon required to create a microprocessor. So perhaps it’s better to talk about a smallest working computer. Recent entries in the race for the smallest machine have defined a computer as a complete computer system which holds onto its program and data upon power-down, but this remains one that is hotly debated. You might for instance debate as to whether that definition would exclude machines such as the crop of 1980s home computers that didn’t store their programs and data, was your Sinclair Spectrum not a computer?
At the University of Michigan they have opted for the simpler definition with their latest entry in the race to be the tiniest. Their latest machine packs an ARM Cortex M0 into a 0.3mm cube, along with photoreceptors and LEDs for programming, data throughput, and power. It is designed to be a temperature sensor and logger for medical implantation, but it stands more as a demonstration of technological prowess than as a usable product.
Pictures of a tiny computer “dwarfed by a grain of rice” make for good mass media consumption but where’s the relevance for us? The interesting part comes from the tantalizing glimpse of its construction: this is a hybrid device upon which we can see the optoelectronic components have been wire-bonded. Unfortunately the paper, catchily titled “A 0.04mm3 16nW Wireless and Batteryless Sensor System with Integrated Cortex-M0+ Processor and Optical Communication for Cellular Temperature Measurement” does not appear to be free-to-view online, so we don’t have any more information. We wish that such feats were possible within our community, but suspect those days are still pretty far away.