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Intel designs a chip that can "smell" hazardous chemicals

2020-03-17 19:46 by
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Intel is one step closer to replicating some parts of the human brain on a computer chip: the company has published new research into an algorithm capable of smelling – or rather, of recognizing what it is smelling – based on the same biological signals that make us jump to the oven when we sniff the familiar smell of burnt pizza.

The processor, which is a part of Intel's Loihi program, is a neuromorphic chip that was designed to work with algorithms closely resembling the makeup of biological systems. This chip in particular works with code that strongly mimics a biological olfactory system, allowing it to "smell" 10 different scents, including potentially hazardous chemicals like methane and ammonia.

"We are developing neural algorithms on Loihi that mimic what happens in your brain when you smell something," says Nabil Imam, senior research scientist in Intel's Neuromorphic Computing Lab. "This work is a prime example of contemporary research at the crossroads of neuroscience and artificial intelligence and demonstrates Loihi's potential to provide important sensing capabilities that could benefit various industries."

"Imam and team took a dataset consisting of the activity of 72 chemical sensors in response to 10 gaseous substances (odors) circulating within a wind tunnel," Intel wrote on its website. "The sensors' responses to the individual scents were transmitted to Loihi where silicon circuits mimicked the circuitry of the brain underlying the sense of smell."

Loihi, Intel's first neuromorphic computing chip, was unveiled in 2017 and pitched by the company as the next generation of AI, capable of applying the principles of computation found in biological brains to computer architectures.

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