Published 19-11-2020
| Article appears in February 2021 Issue

Smarter light-powered AI from a new electronic chip

All in one AI chip prototype

A prototype for a new all-in-one AI device has been developed which brings together into one chip;  artificial intelligence technology, with imaging, processing, machine learning and memory; powered by light.

The researchers say the all-in-one AI chip is inspired by nature’s greatest computing innovation – the human brain.

The RMIT University team says their aim is to replicate a core feature of how the brain learns, through imprinting vision as memory.

The prototype is apparently a major leap forward towards neurorobotics, better technologies for human–machine interaction and scalable bionic systems.

The new prototype also aims to integrate electronic hardware and intelligence together, for fast on-site decisions. 

New electronic chip delivers smarter, light-powered AI 

With further development, the light-driven prototype could enable smarter and smaller autonomous technologies like drones and robotics, plus smart wearables and bionic implants like artificial retinas.

The study, from an international team of Australian, American and Chinese researchers led by RMIT University, is published in the journal Advanced Materials. 

Lead researcher Associate Professor Sumeet Walia, from RMIT, said the prototype delivered brain-like functionality in one powerful device.

“Our new technology radically boosts efficiency and accuracy by bringing multiple components and functionalities into a single platform,” Walia who also co-leads the Functional Materials and Microsystems Research Group said.

Total package: advancing AI

Typically artificial intelligence relies heavily on software and off-site data processing. 

“By bringing it all together into one chip, we can deliver unprecedented levels of efficiency and speed in autonomous and AI-driven decision-making,” says Associate Professor Walia.

New built-in features mean the chip can now capture and automatically enhance images, classify numbers, and be trained to recognise patterns and images with an accuracy rate of over 90%. 

The device is also readily compatible with existing electronics and silicon technologies, for effortless future integration. 

Seeing the light: how the tech works

The prototype is inspired by optogenetics, an emerging tool in biotechnology that allows scientists to delve into the body’s electrical system with great precision and use light to manipulate neurons. 

The AI chip is based on an ultra-thin material – black phosphorous - that changes electrical resistance in response to different wavelengths of light.

The different functionalities such as imaging or memory storage are achieved by shining different colours of light on the chip.

Using the chip with artificial retinas, for example, would enable scientists to miniaturise  emerging technology and improve accuracy of the bionic eye.

The prototype is seen as a significant advance towards the ultimate in electronics: a brain-on-a-chip that can learn from its environment just like humans. 

RMIT University –




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