Intel has introduced the Loihi test chip, a self-learning neuromorphic chip the company says mimics how the brain functions. The chip offers on-chip learning, and combines training and inference on a single chip. The chip will be available in the first half of 2018, to universities and research institutions.

Neuromorphic chip models draw inspiration from how neurons communicate and learn, using spikes and plastic synapses that can be modulated based on timing. The Loihi chip includes digital circuits that mimic the brain’s basic mechanics, while requiring lower compute power, according to the chipmaker.

The self-learning capabilities prototyped by the test chip can improve automotive and industrial applications as well as personal robotics – any application that would benefit from autonomous operation and continuous learning in an unstructured environment (say, recognizing the movement of a car or bike), says Intel.

Neuromorphic computing draws inspiration from our current understanding of the brain’s architecture and its associated computations. The brain’s neural networks relay information with pulses or spikes, modulate the synaptic strengths or weight of the interconnections based on timing of these spikes, and store these changes locally at the interconnections. Intelligent behaviors emerge from the cooperative and competitive interactions between multiple regions within the brain’s neural networks and its environment.

[Image courtesy: Intel]