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Posted: October 28, 2009

Researchers to build brain-like microcircuitry to power a new generation of intelligent machines

(Nanowerk News) HRL Laboratories, LLC, announced today it will continue groundbreaking work developing electronics that simulate the cognitive capabilities and efficiencies of the biological brain as part of the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency’s (DARPA) SyNAPSE program, or Systems of Neuromorphic Adaptive Plastic Scalable Electronics. HRL is leading a group of industry and university laboratories with expertise in core areas of neuro and cognitive science in this pioneering endeavor.
The research marks a dramatic departure from the conventional programmable paradigm of existing computing machines. The goal of the SyNAPSE program is to bridge biology and electronics and establish an entirely new paradigm for creating intelligent machines that can interact with, react to, and actually learn from their environments.
The HRL team’s ultimate goal is to build a low-power, compact electronic chip combining a novel analog circuit design and a neuroscience-inspired architecture that can address a wide range of cognitive abilities—perception, planning, decision making and motor control. In the initial phase of the SyNAPSE program, which started in October 2008, the team began to translate the neuronal and synaptic functions of the biological brain into similar microelectronic functions, ultimately designing and fabricating the base components—the neurons and synapses that will form the core of the microcircuitry of these intelligent machines.
“Our research progress in this area is unprecedented," said DARPA program manager Todd Hylton, Ph.D. "No suitable electronic synaptic device that can perform critical functions of a biological brain like spike-timing-dependent plasticity has ever before been demonstrated or even articulated."
The HRL team addressed two of the hardest problems in the initial phase: the density and endurance of the synaptic elements. A novel nanoscale device was developed that can function as a synapse while matching synaptic densities of 10 billion synapses per square centimeter with an endurance of more than 100 million cycles. “Like brain circuit elements, which also have limited lifecycles, we needed to demonstrate that the microcircuits made from these electronic synapses and neurons would last for a period of time,” said Dr. Narayan Srinivasa, senior scientist at HRL and principal investigator for SyNAPSE. “We were able to show that this tiny device, which will function as a synapse, could last for five to seven years at an average operating speed of 10 Hz.”
In the upcoming phase of the program, the base elements developed in the initial phase will be combined into a very-high-density, interconnecting microelectronic “fabric.” “While in the initial phase we were designing cellular elements of the brain, now we’re going to begin developing the microcircuits of the brain in hardware,” Srinivasa said.
HRL Laboratories, LLC, Malibu, California ( is a corporate research-and-development laboratory owned by The Boeing Company and General Motors specializing in research into sensors and materials, information and systems sciences, applied electromagnetics, and microelectronics. HRL provides custom research and development and performs additional R&D contract services for its LLC member companies, the U.S. government, and other commercial companies.
Source: HRL Laboratories
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