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School of Engineering, Computing and Mathematics
Faculty of Technology, Design and Environment
We present here a learning system using the iCub humanoid robot and the SpiNNaker neuromorphic chip tosolve the real-world task of object-specific attention. Integrating spiking neural networks with robots introduces considerable complexity for questionable benefit if the objective is simply task performance. But, we suggest, in a cognitive robotics context, where the goal is understanding how to compute, such anapproach may yield useful insights to neural architecture as well as learned behavior, especially if dedicated neural hardware is available. Recent advances in cognitive robotics and neuromorphic processing now make such systems possible. Using a scalable, structured, modular approach, we build a spiking neural network where the effects and impact of learning can be predicted and tested, and the network can be scaled or extended to new tasks automatically. We introduce several enhancements to a basic network and show how they can be used to direct performance toward behaviorally relevant goals. Results show that using a simple classical spike-timing-dependent plasticity (STDP) rule on selected connections, we can get the robot (andnetwork) to progress from poor task-specific performance to good performance. Behaviorally relevant STDP appears to contribute strongly to positive learning: “do this” but less to negative learning: “don’t do that.” In addition, we observe that the effect of structural enhancements tends to be cumulative. The overall system suggests that it is by being able to exploit combinations of effects, rather than any one effect or property in isolation, that spiking networks can achieve compelling, task-relevant behavior.
Neuromorphic computing is gaining momentum as an alternative hardware platform for large-scale neural simulation. However, with several major devices and systems available and planned, often with very different characteristics, it is not always clear which platform is suitable for which application. Simulating the platform on conventional computers is typically too slow to be of use, but an alternative approach is to implement an ‘emulation’ of the hardware in FPGAs which can execute at near-hardware speeds but does not commit to a specific hardware architecture. We present an overlay model - a method which superimposes bespoke features on top of a standard template - in both hardware and software to implement neuromorphic architectures using the POETS (Partially Ordered Event Triggered Systems) system. This combination of overlays permits very large-scale simulations to be performed in real time for hardware exploration or application verification, while retaining the flexibility to redefine either the hardware or software layer, ifresults indicate potential to improve performance, or significant design problems. Using this system we simulate up to 500,000 neurons on a single-box system, that can be scaled to ∼4,000,000 neurons in an 8-box configuration. Results indicate the crucial constraint for real-time simulation: peak input spike rate per neuron; and help to optimise both hardware and software around neural application requirements. The preliminary architecture demonstrates the feasibility of an overlay model, while indicating directions for future neuromorphic systems. With POETS, we introduce a platform that can help to shape and investigate the neuromorphic architectures of the future.