Conventional sensors: dumb and wasteful
Conventional electronic sensors (e.g. cameras, microphones, or pressure detectors) collect data continuously and indiscriminately at high resolution. They generate huge amounts of redundant or unimportant information, placing an enormous burden on processors and consuming excessive power.
Neuromorphic sensors: naturally smart and efficient
To address these problems – and to answer fascinating questions about how our sensory organs work (and why sometimes they don’t, and what can be done about that) – ICNS researchers create electronic sensors that mimic the smart, robust, and efficient sensors of living organisms. Biological sensors (e.g. eyes, ears, and skin) achieve amazing efficiency in two main ways:
- They reduce data load by capturing only important information at high resolution: they focus on any change in their surroundings that requires a response. For example, background chatter in a café can be safely ignored, but the fire alarm demands attention and action.
- They transmit maximum information in minimum time through efficient coding. When sensory neurons (nerve cells) are stimulated, they send information to the brain or other parts of the nervous system as spikes of electrical voltage. The spikes vary on a millisecond timescale. Both the rate and the precise timing of spikes can carry information. The pattern of spikes over time creates a temporal code that carries large amounts of sensory information and an in-built time-stamp with great efficiency.
In similar ways, our neuromorphic sensors achieve high performance with low power consumption for positive impact. ICNS researchers are working on neuromorphic systems in three critical sensory domains: visual, auditory, and tactile perception.
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