Engineers put thousands of artificial brain synapses on a single chip

12 Jun 2020

Image: © peshkova/

This week in future tech, MIT engineers have created a powerful ‘brain-on-a-chip’ smaller than a piece of confetti.

Tens of thousands of memristors – artificial versions of our own brain’s synapses – have been placed on a single, tiny chip by engineers from MIT. In a study published to Nature Nanotechnology, the researchers said the silicon-based chip is smaller than a piece of confetti and is able to mimic the information-transmitting synapses in the human brain.

When the chip was put through its paces across several visual tasks, it was able to ‘remember’ stored images and reproduce them many times over in way that was crisper and cleaner compared with existing memristor designs.

It’s hoped that the new memristor could be well suited to neuromorphic devices – electronics based on a new type of circuit to mimic the brain’s neural architecture. These circuits could be built into small, portable devices that could carry out tasks only the latest supercomputers can handle.

“So far, artificial synapse networks exist as software. We’re trying to build real neural network hardware for portable AI systems,” said Jeehwan Kim, associate professor of mechanical engineering at MIT.

“Imagine connecting a neuromorphic device to a camera on your car, and having it recognise lights and objects and make a decision immediately, without having to connect to the internet. We hope to use energy-efficient memristors to do those tasks on site, in real time.”

Beyond Meat to start producing burgers in Europe

Plant-based meat developer Beyond Meat has announced the company’s first co-manufacturing capabilities in Europe with the official opening of the Zandbergen facility in Zoeterwoude, the Netherlands.

The new facility owned and operated by Zandbergen will produce the Beyond Burger and Beyond Sausage and is intended to allow for more efficient distribution of Beyond Meat’s products across EMEA.

The company also announced the acquisition of its first manufacturing facility in Europe, located in Enschede, also in the Netherlands. This will be its first owned facility outside of the US, with plans to be operational by the end of 2020.

“Our new facility in Enschede will not only bring production closer to the consumer, representing an investment in the markets and communities we serve, but is expected to allow us to leverage local supply chains, improving our cost structure and sustainability of operations,” said Beyond Meat founder and CEO Ethan Brown.

“We are excited to take this next step in bringing the nutritional and environmental benefits of our plant-based meats to the European consumer.”

Atmospheric water vapour could be a renewable energy source

A study recently published in Scientific Reports has put forward the concept that electricity generated by interactions between water molecules and metals may be turned into a source of energy. The researchers from Tel Aviv University said that the source for this energy could come from water vapour in our own atmosphere.

“We sought to capitalise on a naturally occurring phenomenon: electricity from water,” said Prof Colin Price, who led the study.

“Electricity in thunderstorms is generated only by water in its different phases – water vapour, water droplets and ice. 20 minutes of cloud development is how we get from water droplets to huge electric discharges – lightning – some half a mile in length.”

Experiments in the lab showed that when the humidity was raised to above 60pc, a voltage developed between two isolated metal surfaces and disappeared once it fell below this percentage. Experiments then carried out in natural conditions showed the same result.

“The results may be particularly important as a renewable source of energy in developing countries, where many communities still do not have access to electricity, but the humidity is constantly about 60pc,” Price said.

Smart clothing to drive fitness wearables revenue to $11bn

A new report from Juniper Research estimated that smart clothing with integrated fitness tools, including wearables, will see revenues rise from $1bn in 2020 to $11bn in 2025. This rapid growth, boosted by higher pricing, will see smart clothing become the largest fitness wearable sector by revenue, the report predicted.

Meanwhile, falling prices for traditional consumer wearables will see these products overtaken; posting revenue in 2025 of $5.3bn, which is almost half that of smart clothing.

It’s expected that established players in the space will lose a substantial market share in years to come. This includes Fitbit, which could see shipments drop by 7.5pc between 2020 and 2025.

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Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic