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Intel's Loihi Mimics Biological Neurons

August 13, 2019

Author: Mike Demler

Like most neural-network processors, Intel’s Loihi (pronounced “low-EE-hee”) is completely digital. But it comes closer than most to being neuromorphic, owing to its use of asynchronous logic to model a brain’s electrical impulses, neurons, and synaptic connections. Loihi is a spiking-neural-network (SNN) processor comprising 128 programmable cores arranged in an 8x16 mesh-connected array. Each core can model up to 1,024 neurons, including logic designed to mimic a biological neuron’s inputs (dendrites), membrane potential (soma), outputs (axons), and synaptic connections. The logic also models a neuron’s plasticity, so it can learn over time by modifying the strength and number of its input/output conductive paths.

Loihi is the company’s fifth-generation SNN research vehicle. It’s not a product, but academic, government, and industry groups can use it by submitting proposals to join the Intel Neuromorphic Research Community (INRC). Extending the Hawaiian theme, the company supplies it in a one- or two-chip USB stick called Kapoho Bay, as well as on larger PCBs. The parallel ports enable connection of multiple Loihi processors to build larger SNNs. Wolf Mountain is a four-chip board, Nahuku is an Arria 10 FPGA expansion board that includes 32 Loihi chips, and the recently announced Pohoiki Beach is a 64-chip board. Intel offers remote access to Wolf Mountain and Nahuku systems, and it plans to add a 768-chip system in a 5U chassis called Pohoiki Springs, which will permit modeling of up to 100 million neurons.

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