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Akida™ - BrainChip’s neuromorphic system

22 July 2020

Brainchip's new Artificial Intelligence chip contains human brain architecture enabling self-learning not previously possible in portable devices.



One of the pivotal concepts underpinning the “Terminator” movie series is the Cyberdyne Corporation that developed the self-aware Skynet system.

The foundation technology was pioneered by a Computer Scientist (Miles Dyson) who based his work on a broken computer chip, a remnant from the brain CPU of the first terminator (played by Arnold Schwarzenegger) that was crushed in a factory hydraulic press in the final scenes of Terminator 1.

Miles Dyson said of the chip "It was a radical design, ideas we would never have thought of..."

According to the movie plot, the Terminator CPU is an artificial neural network with the ability to learn and adapt.

Terminator 1 was released December 1984 - nearly 35 years ago.




From science-fiction to reality

Australian ASX listed company Brainchip Holdings (BRN:ASX) is about to launch to the market the first of a series of chips that supports brain-like neural processing that will likely change the world.

The new chip called Akida™ is designed to learn and adapt.


This could be a Skynet moment.



I commented recently that the pace of innovation had slowed and there had be no new “game changing” technologies developed for over a decade.

However, with Brainchip Holdings (BRN:ASX) about to launch into the market the first practical neuromorphic “system on a chip” – that’s about to change.


Powerful AI at the edge without remote data links

Their new Akida™ neuromorphic chip has a target price of $10 and will feature very low power consumption making embedded AI applications at the edge a practical reality.

"The edge" is a term to describe devices that interface with the real world - like facial and object recognition cameras, sensors that "smell", audio sensors and others.

Current "powerful" devices (such as AI Apps on smartphones) rely on remote heavy-duty computing to perform their AI, sending data back through the internet to servers that undertake the heavy processing required to perform deep analysis including AI processing.

This has obvious limitations, data connections are not always available nor reliable and link speed prevents real time results.

Real time results are clearly important for systems that control motion. For collision avoidance or steering vehicles around landscape features, decision making needs to be instant. But, even for AI that doesn't need to be real-time, the grunt needed exceeds the space and power available on remote devices.

Akida™ has been designed to address this problem; the new chip supports brain like high speed self-learning systems and pattern recognition in real time with power consumption at less than 1 watt.

Compact high speed AI processing with low energy consumption enables powerful functionality in small portable devices. Low cost means widespread deployment of these devices.




Akida™ - The World's First AI system on a chip

Brainchip’s Akida™ is a revolutionary advanced neural networking processor that brings artificial intelligence to the edge in a way that existing technologies are not capable.


For building truly autonomous human like robots – this is the missing link.



Humanoid robots is just one of thousands of potential applications, but probably not with the first generation chips (that will come later when they release scaled-up chips with more neurons).

On their website Brainchip has identified the obvious applications of this new technology such as: person-type recognition (businessman versus delivery driver for example), hand gesture control, data-packet sniffing (looking for dodgy internet traffic), voice recognition, complex object recognition, financial transaction analysis, and autonomous vehicle control.

They even mention olfactory signal processing (smell) suggesting use for devices that can identify the presence of molecules in air. Such "bloodhound" devices could be deployed for advanced medical diagnostics that could identify a range of diseases and medical conditions simply through sampling a person's breath.

On 23 July 2020 the company announced that Nobel Prize Laureate Professor Barry Marshall has joined Brainchip's scientific advisory board. Prof, Marshall received his Nobel Prize for identifying the bacterial cause of stomach ulcers. The gold-standard test for stomach ulcers involves analysing a person's breath.

But, who knows what applications will emerge when every tech-head from whizz-kid teenagers to seasoned industrial engineers get their hands on Akida™?


History shows the launch of a first generation chip leads to rapid development

As a moment in the history of technological achievement, the launch of Akida™ could be likened to the launch of Intel's 8008 microprocessor in 1972, the first 8 Bit CPU that spawned the development of a new generation of desktop computing, embedded device control, Industry 3.0 automation and the ubiquity of the internet.

Nearly forty years later, we know how that has turned out. Barely a device exists that doesn't have at least one microprocessor chip in it.

The clock speed of the 8008 back in 1972 was 0.8 MHz and the chip housed 3,500 transistors. 40 years later the 8th generation Intel chips run at clock speeds 5,000 times faster and house billions of transistors.


The game changing significance of Brainchip's work cannot be overstated.


Radical architecture

Conventional computer systems process data completely differently to biological brains in a way which can only support useful AI through brute force i.e. high powered, big computers.

This limitation makes it really hard to (for example) develop cost-effective portable systems that react to events in real time.

Brainchip has applied radical thinking to the development of their neuromorphic "system on a chip" to deliver AI processing capabilities at a fraction of the size and power.

Neuromorphic processing is based on observing that the human brain supports massive 'Actual' Intelligence in a small space and at very modest power consumption. The approach is to mimic the neuronal synaptic architecture and organic self-organisation of the human brain.

Easier said than done, and Brainchip has been working on it for nearly a decade.


Akida™ is not an AI accelerator

A new class of devices called "neural accelerators" are emerging that act as enhancers to existing microprocessor based digital circuits. The heavy AI processing (machine learning and subsequent machine pattern recognition) tasks are handed-off to the accelerator.

However, systems based on this architecture lack flexibility, and are inherently power hungry, require more footprint and are not an elegant solution.

The approach with Akida™ is to change all that by providing everything needed in one integrated circuit package to support an optimised application. With Akida™ all of the system components needed (CPU, memory, sensor interfaces, and data interfaces) to build an application are in one package.


Akida™ is NOT an accelerator; it is a processor.



This is leading edge technology and will enable future innovation to both improve existing devices and spawn an era of new thinking that will lead to - who knows?


Brainchip's Akida™ System on a chip

The chip contains all of the elements required to interface conventional digital systems to the neuromorphic fabric, thus providing a “system on a chip” rather than an inconvenient stand-alone neuromorphic device that might have engineers scratching their heads trying to figure out how to work with it.

Akida™ supports programming in existing high-level languages like Python (an open source language gaining huge popularity due to its universality, simplicity and power) and has onboard standard digital interfaces - PCI-Express 2.1, USB 3.0, I3S and I2S as well as external memory expansion interfaces.

Brainchip has taken the heavy lifting out of interfacing standard digital signals with the analogue and "spike-event" neuromorphic core, and supports ganging together chips with built in serial connectivity to allow up to 64 devices to be arrayed for a single solution.



At a target price of roughly $10 per chip, the cost for tinkerers to play with the new technology will be very affordable as will subsequent deployment in working devices at scale when manufactured.

Brainchip announced to the market on 2 July 2020, they had successfully produced the first Akida™ chip silicon wafers and the company is now testing and evaluating the first batch of devices. Pending the need for further manufacturing fine-tuning , Akida™ is not far from commercial release.


Applications are already in development

Brainchip has seeded the market by making available a development environment for software engineers to begin "playing" with the system and skilling-up using the application development tools.

The complete application development environment toolkit, guides and examples can be downloaded here at no cost.

Before the first chips are available, there are likely already many applications in final design stages waiting for the hardware.

While Brainchip isn't the only organisation working on neuromorphic chips, it looks like being the first to market.

The First Generation Akida™ chip isn't theory; it's practical reality.

I wonder what the 8th generation version will be capable of?


The world is about to change fast.





By Justin Wearne


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Further reading

  1. Brainchip Inc. official website
  2. Spiking Neural Networks, the Next Generation of Machine Learning
  3. Deep Learning With Spiking Neurons: Opportunities and Challenges

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