Synapse: the computer, the brain and the drone

Neurons

The Systems of Neuromorphic Adaptive Plastic Scalable Electronics, SyNAPSE, paid for by the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency, is sponsoring two neuromorphic computers.  One of these machines is being designed at HRL Laboratories in Malibu, California—a facility owned jointly by Boeing and General Motors. Narayan Srinivasa, the project’s leader, says his neuromorphic chip requires not a single line of programming code to function. Instead, it learns by doing, in the way that real brains do.

An important property of a real brain is that it is what is referred to as a small-world network. Each neuron within it has tens of thousands of synaptic connections with other neurons. This means that, even though a human brain contains about 86 billion neurons, each is within two or three connections of all the others via myriad potential routes……

In the meantime, and more practically, he and his team are working with AeroVironment, a firm that builds miniature drones that might, for example, fly around inside a building looking for trouble. One of the team’s chips could provide such drones with a brain that would, say, learn to recognise which rooms the drone had already visited, and maybe whether anything had changed in them. More advanced versions might even take the controls, and fly the drone by themselves.

Neuromorphic computing: The machine of a new soul, Economist, Aug. 3, 2013, at 67

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