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KAIST Team Develops an Insect-Mimicking Semiconductor to Detect Motion​
View : 1531 Date : 2024-02-29 Writer : PR Office

The recent development of an “intelligent sensor” semiconductor that mimics the optic nerve of insects while operating at ultra-high speeds and low power offers extensive expandability into various innovative technologies. This technology is expected to be applied to various fields including transportation, safety, and security systems, contributing to both industry and society.


On February 19, a KAIST research team led by Professor Kyung Min Kim from the Department of Materials Science and Engineering (DMSE) announced the successful developed an intelligent motion detector by merging various memristor* devices to mimic the visual intelligence** of the optic nerve of insects.

*Memristor: a “memory resistor” whose state of resistance changes depending on the input signal

**Visual intelligence: the ability to interpret visual information and perform calculations within the optic nerve


With the recent advances in AI technology, vision systems are being improved by utilizing AI in various tasks such as image recognition, object detection, and motion analysis. However, existing vision systems typically recognize objects and their behaviour from the received image signals using complex algorithms. This method requires a significant amount of data traffic and higher power consumption, making it difficult to apply in mobile or IoT devices.


Meanwhile, insects are known to be able to effectively process visual information through an optic nerve circuit called the elementary motion detector, allowing them to detect objects and recognize their motion at an advanced level. However, mimicking this pathway using conventional silicon integrated circuit (CMOS) technology requires complex circuits, and its implementation into actual devices has thus been limited.


Figure 1. Working principle of a biological elementary motion detection system.

< Figure 1. Working principle of a biological elementary motion detection system. >


Professor Kyung Min Kim’s research team developed an intelligent motion detecting sensor that operates at a high level of efficiency and ultra-high speeds. The device has a simple structure consisting of only two types of memristors and a resistor developed by the team. The two different memristors each carry out a signal delay function and a signal integration and ignition function, respectively. Through them, the team could directly mimic the optic nerve of insects to analyze object movement.


Figure 2

< Figure 2. (Left) Optical image of the M-EMD device in the left panel (scale bar 200 μm) and SEM image of the device in the right panel (scale bar: 20 μm). (Middle) Responses of the M-EMD in positive direction. (Right) Responses of the M-EMD in negative direction. >


To demonstrate its potential for practical applications, the research team used the newly developed motion detector to design a neuromorphic computing system that can predict the path of a vehicle. The results showed that the device used 92.9% less energy compared to existing technology and predicted motion with more accuracy.


Figure 3

< Figure 3. Neuromorphic computing system configuration based on motion recognition devices >


Professor Kim said, “Insects make use of their very simple visual intelligence systems to detect the motion of objects at a surprising high speed. This research is significant in that we could mimic the functions of a nerve using a memristor device.” He added, “Edge AI devices, such as AI-topped mobile phones, are becoming increasingly important. This research can contribute to the integration of efficient vision systems for motion recognition, so we expect it to be applied to various fields such as autonomous vehicles, vehicle transportation systems, robotics, and machine vision.”


This research, conducted by co-first authors Hanchan Song and Min Gu Lee, both Ph.D. candidates at KAIST DMSE, was published in the online issue of Advanced Materials on January 29.


This research was supported by the Mid-Sized Research Project by the National Research Foundation of Korea, the Next-Generation Intelligent Semiconductor Technology Development Project, the PIM Artificial Intelligence Semiconductor Core Technology Development Project, the National Nano Fab Center, and the Leap Research Project by KAIST.