IBM has big ambitions for its barely visible computer, including helping combat fraud with blockchain tech.

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.

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.