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Reservoir Computer Marks Microelectromechanical Neural Network Application

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SEM image

SEM image of micro-mechanical reservoir computer device.

Credit: Journal of Applied Physics

As artificial intelligence has become increasingly sophisticated, it has inspired renewed efforts to develop computers whose physical architecture mimics the human brain. One approach, called reservoir computing, allows hardware devices to achieve the higher-dimension calculations required by emerging artificial intelligence. One new device highlights the potential of extremely small mechanical systems to achieve these calculations. 

A group of researchers at the Université de Sherbrooke in Québec, Canada, reports the construction of the first reservoir computing device built with a microelectromechanical system (MEMS). As described in "Reservoir Computing with a Single Delay-Coupled Non-Linear Mechanical Oscillator," published in the Journal of Applied Physics, the neural network exploits the non-linear dynamics of a microscale silicon beam to perform its calculations. The group's work looks to create devices that can act simultaneously as a sensor and a computer using a fraction of the energy a normal computer would use.

"These kinds of calculations are normally only done in software, and computers can be inefficient," says Guillaume Dion, an author on the paper. "Many of the sensors today are built with MEMS, so devices like ours would be ideal technology to blur the boundary between sensors and computers." 

The device relies on the non-linear dynamics of how the silicon beam, at widths 20 times thinner than a human hair, oscillates in space. The results from this oscillation are used to construct a virtual neural network that projects the input signal into the higher dimensional space required for neural network computing. 

In demonstrations, the system was able to switch between different common benchmark tasks for neural networks with relative ease, Dion says, including classifying spoken sounds and processing binary patterns with accuracies of 78.2 percent and 99.9 percent respectively. 

"This tiny beam of silicon can do very different tasks," says Julien Sylvestre, another author on the paper. "It's surprisingly easy to adjust it to make it perform well at recognizing words." Salim Mejaouri is also an author on the paper.

Sylvestre says he and his colleagues are looking to explore increasingly complicated computations using the silicon beam device, with the hopes of developing small and energy-efficient sensors and robot controllers.


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