Neuromorphic Engineering

In the summer of 2001 I had the privilege of being able to attend the Neuromorphic Engineering workshop at Telluride. This is a great little conference (well, it was little ten years ago, I don’t know now) where people gather to build robots and test robot algorithms. Nominally, the robots and algorithms are bio-inspired. This is a loose word, which means different things to different people. To me it meant simply having lots of fun interacting with people who were interested in both engineering and neuroscience/biology.

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My Ph.D. co-advisor Timothy Horiuchi is a great enthusiast of Neuromorphic analog VLSI. This is the design of analog computers in VLSI circuit format. The assumption behind this approach is that the ‘magic’ in biological brains is encapsulated in the analog non-linear nature of neural integration, which can be modeled by the non-linear characteristics of transistors working in the sub-threshold zone (i.e. not on and off as they do in binary computers, but rather like the analog computers of old). Another selling point of sub-threshold analog VLSI is their low power consumption. This is rather important to the defense and medical industries which want to pack a lot of computing muscle into small low power packages.

I jumped in with a project to try and guide a sonar (“bat”) head that used sonar pings to localize an physical object and track it. If I ever recover the video of that bio-mimetic bat head I will put it up on this page. The review paper with Ernst Neibur was a result of a little mini-workshop I took part in, led by Ernst, that tried to analyze what impact engineering has had on neuroscience.

Back at the Univ. of Maryland, I enjoyed learning about Neuromorphic Circuits from Timmer Horiuchi’s aVLSI course and enjoyed sitting down with pSpice and simulating analog circuits designed to mimic part of a bat’s brain though I never published any of the neuromorphic work I did (as little as it was).