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DARPA Designs Systems To Mimic Human Brain

The SyNAPSE program aims to imitate the spontaneous functionality of the brain for use in robotics, image processing, and other applications.

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The Department of Defense (DOD) is working on technology that mimics the human brain as a way to power robots and other electronic devices.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's (DARPA's) Systems of Neuromorphic Adaptive Plastic Scalable Electronics (SyNAPSE) program is developing what are called neuromorphic electronic systems, which can understand, adapt, and respond to information more like the human brain does than traditional computers do, according to the agency.

Computers are compartmentalized into units that function according to how they are programmed, while the human brain uses neurons and synapses that can spontaneously communicate and learn how to function as they go along. By studying the brain, DARPA is developing integrated circuits that are imitating the function and connectivity of neurons and synapses, the agency said.

The SyNAPSE program also includes complementary tools so hardware developers can use the technology, including circuit design tools, computer simulations, and virtual training environments for testing the system.

DARPA has completed the first two phases of SyNAPSE, which were aimed at demonstrating the core hardware, architecture, simulation, and evaluation capabilities needed to design the technology, it said.

The first phase developed nanometer-scale synaptic components that could adapt the connection between two electronic neurons so they function similarly to biological systems, according to DARPA. It also simulated how these components would work in microcircuits to support a larger system architecture.

The second phase specified large-scale system architecture, simulating core dynamical behaviors of large networks. It also demonstrated microcircuits of electronic synapses and neurons that spontaneously organized themselves, according to DARPA.

Now that it's demonstrated the building blocks of the technology, the next phase of SyNAPSE aims to begin building the elements of a functioning system, including chip-fabrication process development and design and validation of single-chip systems. DARPA also plans to demonstrate SyNAPSE in virtual environments to show how it can mimic the brain in behaviors such as navigation and perception, it said.

In addition to applying SyNAPSE to robotics, image processing and manned systems are other applications DARPA is considering for the technology.

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