Brain-boggler at ESC Boston 2017

March 03, 2017

Max The Magnificent-March 03, 2017

Do you remember my previous column on my current hobby project (see Bodacious Brain Meets ESC Boston 2017)? Well, things are progressing in leaps and bounds to the extent that we may even have some prototyping boards to demonstrate and give away at the ESC Boston event.

Before I tell you more, let's remind ourselves that, as seen in this video, we had two contenders for the brain's home: a domed, smooth-sided glass cylinder and a more curvaceous container. I was leaning toward the smooth-sided cylinder, but then someone suggested that I make two brains -- one male and one female. The idea is that, in the absence of any external stimuli, the two brains could communicate with each other, perhaps using infrared, with the results being displayed on their neurons' tri-color LEDs.

I fear that if these artificial brains are anything like me and my wife (Gina the Gorgeous), their conversation may be somewhat one-sided, but we'll address that problem when we get to it.

Now, it has to be said that I'm typically the only person who is enthused by my hobby projects. When I start talking about one of these little rascals, most people just nod, smile, and edge their way to the door. So you can only imagine my surprise to have discovered a fellow enthusiast in the person of Nathan John.

I'm saddened to say that, although he started off as an engineer, Nathan was lured by the dark side and now finds himself Director of Marketing at Silego. Happily, he's not been completely lost to us because he's still an engineer at heart.

As you may recall, Silego makes teeny-tiny (2mm x 3mm) GPAK5 chips. In addition to things like analog comparators, digital function blocks (flip-flops, latches, look-up-tables, delays, and counters), and an 8-byte RAM, these little scamps also feature a small asynchronous state machine (ASM) that's equivalent to having a simple MCU running approximately 100 lines of code.

(Source: Silego)

The thing is that, whilst being briefed on one of Silego's products recently, I happened to mention the Bodacious Brain along with some of my ruminations and cogitations regarding its implementation. A few days later, I received an email from Nathan saying:

Max, I hold you personally responsible for periods of sleeplessness thinking about Bodacious Brain ideas and architectures when I should have been getting my beauty rest. Based on straining my brain harder than I should, I have the first inklings of a GPAK-based architecture that I think could be of interest to you.

Well, earlier today, Nathan and I had a very interesting conversation regarding the way in which one might implement GPAK-based neurons and connect them together to form the brain. I don’t want to say too much at the moment because our ideas are still in flux. What I will say is that we're envisaging each neuron being implemented as a small round circuit board as illustrated below.

(Source: Max Maxfield)

The board will be ringed with a series of plated through vias that will be used to supply power and connect the neurons together. The GPAK5 chip will be located on the back of the neuron along with a capacitor and the three current-limiting resistors for the tri-color LED. On the front of the neuron will be four pads, to which the leads from the LED will be attached.

Nathan has come up with a rather cunning plan for the neurons to communicate with each other. Indeed, this is a plan so cunning that we could pin a tail on it and call it a weasel, but I don’t want to give too much away at this time.

One of my presentations at ESC Boston is going to be on the current state of play with regard to the Bodacious Brain. I will reveal all at that time. In fact, there's a strong possibility that we might even have some GPAK5-based Bodacious Brain prototyping boards to demonstrate and give away as part of my presentation; I'm making no promises, but we're working on it.

This talk will be in the ESC Engineering Theater, so it's open to anyone, including those with a Free Expo Pass, but you do need to register. Hopefully I'll see you there. I'll be the one in the Hawaiian shirt. As always, all you have to do is shout "Max, Beer!" or "Max, Bacon!" to be assured of my undivided attention.

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