To meet the NASA need for power efficient algorithms that improve onboard autonomy, Exploration Institute proposes to develop NERVES, an approach for power efficient, verifiable generic calculation and signals processing onboard resource constrained systems using the latest neuromorphic hardware.
Through our substantial experience in applying and developing neuromorphic algorithms for spacecraft systems, we have determined that the performance of our algorithms can be substantially improved if the lowest level substrate, the building blocks, were designed to use the most power efficient traits of neuromorphic hardware. More efficient performance of key mathematical operations in neuromorphic hardware would provide high value to spacecraft developers as they can translate their existing work directly into a vastly more power efficient and faster processing system. NERVES is driven by a practical need and the pipeline to commercialization is already established through Exploration Institute’s track record and current work.
NERVES directly maps conventional algorithms to any neuromorphic processor, combining the benefits of more capable, well known algorithms with the power savings of a neuromorphic architecture. A neuromorphic chip like Intel’s Loihi has a computational power density of more than 1000x that of a CPU or GPU for some tasks. Based on our initial analysis, Exploration Institute predicts that NERVES will enable these kinds of power savings (or conversely, computational capacity increase for the same power) which will greatly improve NASA's capacity for onboard autonomy.
As an added bonus, NERVES provides a more verifiabile approach to neuromorphic computing in space, by allowing the use of verified computing approaches (non-neuromorphic, conventional) on neuromorphic hardware with all the power savings that can entail. This enables more likely adoption and infusion into NASA programs.
For a given power budget, using NERVES in concert with neuromorphic hardware, NASA could run significantly more complex processing onboard that will enable more onboard autonomy. With such a general, infrastructure-level additional capability, the potential applications are numerous, including: safer human habitation modules, faster onboard autonomy for navigation and other applications, more automated onboard Fault Management, and a foundation to build onboard cognitive computing to support general operations.
NERVES is specifically designed for spacecraft systems such as Gateway, planetary robotics, and government and commercial satellites in general, but also applies to any autonomous system, particularly autonomous vehicles, and is especially useful for applications that are power constrained and mobile (for example: agricultural and automated platforms).