Skip to main content
Move the World.
neuromorphic computing

Lead image by Andrew Brumagen

Researchers have created a new type of optical sensor, designed to mimic the human eye's ability to detect changes in its visual field. The team from Oregon State University says that this is a major breakthrough in the fields of image recognition, robotics, and artificial intelligence.

Unlike traditional sensors, the human-like artificial eye is designed to work with human-like AI, a match that could unleash the full potential of breakthroughs in both hardware and software.

Mimicking the Human Brain with Neuromorphic Computing 

The new sensor could pair well with the latest neuromorphic computing technology, which is being increasingly used for AI in applications like image recognition. Instead of processing information in a sequence, as traditional computers do, processors used in AI often involve integrated electrical circuits that mimic the circuitry in the brain.

In other words, instead of a single pathway, the neuromorphic processor uses a web of pathways.

With this new work, the computer eye is catching up to the capabilities of the neuromorphic computing brain.

But the kind of information obtained with current optic sensors lags behind the processing potential we have with neuromorphic computing today.

"Even though the algorithms and architecture designed to process information are becoming more and more like a human brain, the information these systems receive is still decidedly designed for traditional computers," team member and engineer John Labram said in a statement.

Most sensor technology, like chips in smartphones or digital cameras, use sequential processing: they scan and capture images pixel by pixel. But the algorithms that process visual information are becoming more complicated, especially with AI or neuromorphic computing applications.

Mimicking the Human Eye

The idea is that as computer brains "think" more like human brains, they need to be paired with a human-like eye device — a retinomorpic sensor. With this new work, published in Applied Physics Letters, the computer eye is catching up to the capabilities of the neuromorphic computing brain. 

Most attempts at building eye-like sensors involved complex hardware or software. But what makes this new sensor unique is the use of perovskite, a mineral used in solar cells. The sensor uses ultrathin layers of perovskite semiconductors that, when placed in light, can transform from electrical insulators to conductors.

In Labram's optic sensor, the thin layers of perovskite function like a capacitor, which varies its ability to store electric energy under illumination. The sensors react to light like the human eye does. When it senses a change in illumination, it registers a sharp signal, but then returns to its original state. 

"The way we test it is, basically, we leave it in the dark for a second, then we turn the lights on and just leave them on," Labram said. "As soon as the light goes on, you get this big voltage spike, then the voltage quickly decays, even though the intensity of the light is constant. And that's what we want."

The team says this new sensor could be perfect for self-driving cars, for example, by helping robots track moving objects.

We'd love to hear from you! If you have a comment about this article or if you have a tip for a future Freethink story, please email us at [email protected]

Up Next

Artificial Intelligence
Minecraft’s Urban Planning AI Could Help Design Future Cities
urban planning
Artificial Intelligence
Minecraft’s Urban Planning AI Could Help Design Future Cities
AIs design entire settlements in an annual Minecraft competition that could reveal uses for the tech in real-world urban planning.

AIs design entire settlements in an annual Minecraft competition that could reveal uses for the tech in real-world urban planning.

Artificial Intelligence
How Synchronized Fireflies Could Inspire Robot Swarms
synchronized fireflies
Artificial Intelligence
How Synchronized Fireflies Could Inspire Robot Swarms
A recent discovery about the synchronized fireflies' amazing light shows could help researchers acquire fresh insight into swarm robotics.

A recent discovery about the synchronized fireflies' amazing light shows could help researchers acquire fresh insight into swarm robotics.

Animals
Vampire Bats Social Distance When Sick, and So Should You
vampire bats
Animals
Vampire Bats Social Distance When Sick, and So Should You
Vampire bats are incredibly social creatures, living in colonies which can be massive. New research suggests that when they feel sick, they socially distance.

Vampire bats are incredibly social creatures, living in colonies which can be massive. New research suggests that when they feel sick, they socially distance.

The Future Explored
Cooling the Planet With a Giant Solar Umbrella
Cooling the Planet With a Giant Solar Umbrella
The Future Explored
Cooling the Planet With a Giant Solar Umbrella
Solar geoengineering would cool global temperatures — is it worth it?

Solar geoengineering would cool global temperatures — is it worth it?

Aerospace
Tracking the Crew Dragon: Liftoff
Crew Dragon Liftoff
Aerospace
Tracking the Crew Dragon: Liftoff
SpaceX’s Crew Dragon had a successful liftoff from Cape Canaveral on May 30, marking the beginning of the historic Demo-2 mission.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon had a successful liftoff from Cape Canaveral on May 30, marking the beginning of the historic Demo-2 mission.

Innovations in Sustainability
Modifying Poplar Tree Genes to Fight Pollution
genetically modified poplar trees
Innovations in Sustainability
Modifying Poplar Tree Genes to Fight Pollution
The number of poplar trees around the world has doubled, but a chemical compound in their leaves means they might be doing more harm than good.
By Sarah Wells

The number of poplar trees around the world has doubled, but a chemical compound in their leaves means they might be doing more harm than good.

Drones of the Future
This Nail Gun Wielding Drone Looks Terrifying, But Could Save Lives
This Nail Gun Wielding Drone Looks Terrifying, But Could Save Lives
Drones of the Future
This Nail Gun Wielding Drone Looks Terrifying, But Could Save Lives
According to OSHA, one in five workplace deaths in 2017 were in construction. Can nail gun drones help save lives?

According to OSHA, one in five workplace deaths in 2017 were in construction. Can nail gun drones help save lives?

The New Space Race
Where Did the Commercial Space Sector Come From?
Where Did the Commercial Space Sector Come From?
The New Space Race
Where Did the Commercial Space Sector Come From?
Private companies have worked with NASA for decades. Can the next generation of space companies get by without the...
By Mike Riggs

Private companies have worked with NASA for decades. Can the next generation of space companies get by without the government as their biggest customer?