Meet the Brain Behind ESC Boston 2017

April 21, 2017

Max The Magnificent-April 21, 2017

I know I've talked about my Bodacious Brain before -- the super-duper one I'm building; not the one that's past its "sell by date" in my noggin -- but I can't stop myself from talking about it again because it looks like we're going to have some very exciting news regarding my Building an Artificial Brain session at ESC Boston, May 3-4, 2017.

First of all, we've tied down the number of inter-neuron connections we're going to have. The image below shows a bird's eye view of the connection paths in a single layer of neurons (multiple layers will be stacked on top of each other).

Bird's eye view of inter-neuron connections
(Click Here to see a bigger image. Source: Max Maxfield)

The thin green rectangles symbolize edge-wise views of the neuron circuit boards, while the pink "mushrooms" represent 8mm tri-colored LEDs presented in traditional lead-through-hole (LTH) packages. The neuron boards will be air/fly-wired to each other so they will appear to be floating in space.

As we see, each neuron can talk back and forth with the neurons on either side. Each neuron can also talk with one neuron in the adjacent inner ring and two neurons on the adjacent outer ring. Also, each neuron can receive a signal from a neuron in the layer below (or from a primary stimulus in the case of the bottommost layer) and transmit a signal to a neuron in the layer above, but these signals aren't shown in the above image.

Based on this, we've also firmed up the description of the small boards we will use to implement the neurons in the final implementation. These boards will be 0.9" in diameter. A tri-colored LED in a traditional 8mm LTH package will be attached to four pads on the "front" of the neuron (the side facing the observer). All of the other surface-mount components, including the Silego GPAK5 chips we're using for the processing elements, will be attached to the back of the board.

Front of neuron board
(Click Here to see a bigger image. Source: Max Maxfield)

The reason we've doubled up on the 5V, 0V, and I2C bus connections is to make our (wiring) lives easier. One reason I'm currently performing my Happy Dance (apart from my natural exuberance) is that the engineers at Silego have come up with a cunning way to re-program all of the neurons in a layer simultaneously using the I2C bus, but we'll leave that topic for a future column.

As an aside, you can read more about the Bodacious Brain project over on our sister site at (see Building an Artificial Brain and A Bit of a Twist).

Another cause for my Happy Dance is that the Silego engineers have been working through the night to design a Bodacious Brain prototyping board. Rather than building a single large (9" diameter) and correspondingly expensive board, we've opted for smaller 4.5" x 4.5" "quadrant" boards. A prototyping kit comprises four quadrant boards, which can be connected to form a single 1 x 4 layer, or two 2 x 2 half layers that can be stacked on top of each other, or one 4 x 1 stack (of course, if you have more kits, you can stack more layers).

3D Rendering of a quadrant board
(Click Here to see a bigger image. Source: Max Maxfield)

This design has been sent off to my chum, Duane Benson, and his colleagues over at Screaming Circuits. These little rascals specialize in assembling short-run, one-off, and prototype boards with rapid turn times. The "rapid turn times" is key here since -- as I pen these words -- we now have only 12 days before there's a fanfare of trumpets, I take the stage, and the crowd roars (those of a more nervous disposition may squeal in excitement; I'm sorry... I'm projecting again).

The thing is that -- assuming all goes well -- we are planning on giving ten of these Bodacious Brain Prototyping Kits (each comprising four quadrant boards plus some other "stuff") away to ten lucky attendees.

Speaking about attendees, have you registered yet? If not, why not? My presentation will be held in the ESC Engineering Theater, which is in the main Exhibit Hall, and you can sign up for an Expo Pass for free. 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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