Donate to Science & Enterprise

S&E on Mastodon

S&E on LinkedIn

S&E on Flipboard

Please share Science & Enterprise

Lightweight AI Chip Designer Raises $2.8M in Seed Funds

Bumble bee and flower

(Daniel Krieg, Wikimedia Commons)

24 Nov. 2020. A new company is designing computer chips and devices with artificial intelligence modeled on insect brains for autonomous vehicles and robotic systems. Opteran Technologies, in Sheffield, U.K., is a spin-off enterprise from University of Sheffield, and raising £2.1 million ($US 2.8 million) in seed funding from venture investors.

Opteran Technologies is designing circuitry for computer chips with embedded artificial intelligence routines that express brain functions of insects. The company’s technology platform called Natural Intelligence includes circuit designs for devices that provide 360 degree vision, sense optical flow for object detection and collision avoidance, direct vehicle movements with an efficient means of simultaneous location and mapping, and offer onboard decision making.

The company is spun-off from the Complex Systems Modeling lab at University of Sheffield led by James Marshall, professor of theoretical and computational biology. Marshall and research fellow Alex Cope, scientific founders of Opteran Technologies, study insects as models for social behavior and decision-making, to capture insights for applications in robotics and autonomous vehicles. The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, a research funding agency in the U.K., is supporting a multi-disciplinary Brains on Board project led by Marshall to design autonomous drone systems with navigational and learning abilities of honey bees.

Opteran says Natural Intelligence reverse engineers insect brain functions, to produce a more direct, efficient, and transparent means of achieving autonomy for drones and other vehicles than current A.I. methods. Most of today’s A.I. processes, says the company, requires sophisticated pattern matching and neural network learning that requires heavy computing power. Opteran’s techniques, however, are captured from simpler insect brain functions and require no extended machine learning. As a result, says Opteran, its simpler lightweight algorithms can be expressed directly in circuitry that the company says are deployable on leading chip types.

The company says its Natural Intelligence development kit requires 30 grams (about 1 ounce) and draws less than a watt of power. In a demonstration of the technology, a flying drone weighing less than 250 grams (0.55 pounds), guided by Opteran chips, was able to navigate with complete onboard autonomy, using a low-resolution panoramic camera.

In the next 18 months, Opteran says it plans to develop Natural Intelligence further to offer a 360 degree camera, sensors for obstacle avoidance and navigation, devices for simultaneous location and mapping, and autonomous decision making. The company expects to market its devices to developers of drones and autonomous vehicles, as well as construction and mining equipment.

Opteran Technologies is raising £2.1 million in its seed funding round, led by technology industry venture investor IQ Capital in Cambridge, U.K. Taking part in the round are Episode1, Join, and Seraphim Capital.

“Already in a position to demonstrate the technology,” says David Rajan, Opteran’s CEO in an IQ Capital statement, “we are confident that Natural Intelligence will become highly sought after as the way to deliver lightweight, low-cost, and effective autonomy in a radically new way that will open up huge growth opportunities for robotics.”

More from Science & Enterprise:

*     *     *

Comments are closed.