Brain-inspired circuit board can simulate 1million neurons

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Bioengineers from Stanford University have taken inspiration from the human brain to develop a circuit board that is 9,000 times faster than a standard PC.

The prototype Neurogrid board costs around $40,000 (approx. £24,000) and is about the same size of an iPad. It consists of 16 custom designed 'Neurocore' chips that together can simulate 1million neurons and billions of synaptic connections. The chips were made using 15-year-old fabrication technologies. However, by switching to modern manufacturing processes and fabricating the chips in large volumes, the researchers believe Neurogrid could be available for as little as $400 (approx. £240). Lead researcher Kwabena Boahen, an associate professor of bioengineering at Stanford, says the technology could be used to give amputees better control of their prosthetic limbs, and pave the way towards more advanced autonomous robots. He also envisions a Neurocore-like chip that could be implanted in a paralysed person's brain, interpreting intended movements and translating them to commands for prosthetic limbs without overheating the brain. One big obstacle remains, however. And that is power consumption. "The human brain, with 80,000 times more neurons than Neurogrid, consumes only three times as much power," Boahen explained. "Achieving this level of energy efficiency while offering greater configurability and scale is the ultimate challenge neuromorphic engineers face." During his research, Boahen studied two other projects – IBM's SyNAPSE initiative and Heidelberg University's BrainScales project – both of which attempt to model brain functions in silicon and/or software. In his analysis, Boahen created a single metric to account for total system cost – including the size of the chip, how many neurons it simulates and the power it consumes. Neurogrid, he says, is by far the most cost effective solution – opening up the possibility for it to be widely used in the research community. Take a look at the video below to find out more.