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Intel’s Loihi Chip, to give a Biological Touch to the ‘Brains’ of Drones, Processes Natural Surroundings Effectively

Intel's Loihi chip, to give a biological touch to the 'Brains' of drones, processes natural surroundings effectively

These days, with drones dominating the sky, there is no debate on what they cannot achieve. Right from carrying out surveillance activities to defying all odds up there, they seem to have all the required qualities. However, a few experts feel that something more required from a drone, which even birds can do at great heights. Well, people might get a little perplexed at this point, but drones are still incapable of dodging hurdles coming their way or tackling rough weather conditions. 

And this is precisely why Intel feels that a drone needs to possess some biological qualities within its ‘brain,’ something found in birds. Have any of us ever heard of two birds colliding with each other or rather any obstacle during their flight? Birds can fly and maintain their state even when they are in a new environment. They can also help themselves out during difficult situations. It needs to be imbibed within drones, and Intel is working towards achieving this feat.

The chip manufacturer is working towards polishing its “neuromorphic Loihi chip.” Any machine housing the Loihi chip would be possessing a “biological brain” rather than behaving like a plain electronic system.

Mike Davies is a Research Manager at Intel who is presently overseeing the complete development of the Loihi chip. Currently, this chip is being made at the Neuromorphic Computing Lab at Intel, which is headed by Davies, who has stated, “Animals like cockatiels flying through the world at speeds up to 20 miles an hour in foreign environments, quickly learning the map, and the landmarks, and the obstacles that it faces; maneuvering with incredible agility and skill; and also being able to do all kinds of other really intelligent tasks, like learning how to solve problems, find food, communicate with other organisms. And this is all types of behaviors and capabilities that we are far from reaching with our technology today.”

Presently, drones are being tested with the Loihi chip housed within them. Intel is carrying out this complete operation to check if they can exhibit any natural properties. Davies feels that the drone sight is the core aspect here. The cameras installed within these drones normally capture photographs of the same scenes. There is not much difference between a series of snaps clicked within these drones. What is required is that drones need to capture sights, very much similar to the sights captured through the eyes of any living being on this planet, where views change continuously every second.

And exactly to achieve this purpose, the camera mechanism needs to be upgraded such that it need not capture multiple frames till it encounters a hurdle. With this, the latency rate is reduced greatly, and there is an improvement in its response. Simultaneously, the cost of energy too can fall, which becomes quite beneficial for drones having restrictions on their battery usage.

This kind of camera is referred to as an ‘event camera,’ which can provide a latency improvement of the magnitude of order 1000X. The Loihi chip would be fit within these cameras inside drones. Apart from the cameras, they would also be installed within a sensor having capabilities to absorb all the surrounding information without utilizing a lot of power while maintaining a low rate of latency at the same time. 

All these facts boil down to one thing – perceiving signals similar to that perceived by the eye of a living being is no doubt great. However, what is wonderful here is that the drone’s brain possesses the biological feel.

So far, Intel has not stated anything concerning commercializing this technology. However, it looks like they would be interested in providing the drones’ license to those who have established a reputation for themselves within the field.

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