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An Internet of Things Inspired by Nature - ERC Synergy Grant for Prof Gerhard Fettweis

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portrait photo of prof. gerhard fettweis
Prof. Gerhard Fettweis / © Andreas Traßl / TU Dresden

[Press release by TU Dresden]

A newly funded ERC Synergy proposal unveils a groundbreaking bio-inspired vision for future smart wireless multimodal sensory systems.
The European Research Council has announced today that the project SWIMS, Stochastic Spiking Wireless Multimodal Sensory Systems, will be funded at EUR 13.5 million under the Synergy program. The project proposes a veritable paradigm shift in the architecture, design, and hardware of future smart wireless multimodal sensory systems. The project is made possible by the synergistic efforts of four distinguished scientific leaders: Professor Gerhard P. Fettweis (TU Dresden), Professor Denis Flandre (UC Louvain), Professor Adrian Ionescu (EPFL), and Professor Elisabetta Chicca (Uni Groningen).

“With support from the European Research Council, we affirm that the scientific advancements proposed here are pivotal for the sustainable deployment of billions of future Internet of Things nodes. These nodes will play a crucial role in advancing our smart economy and society, while simultaneously delivering substantial energy savings and minimizing environmental impact,” say the researchers.

Inspired by the intricate workings of a small insect in the biological world, the approach heralds a genuine revolution in future electronics. According to the researchers, the proposal focuses on realizing a radically novel end-to-end stochastic analog spiking neuromorphic concept for SWIMS Internet-of-Things nodes. This concept provides innovative solutions to the challenges of sensor spiking signal generation, processing, and communication, disrupting the status quo at all levels.

ERC Synergy Grant for SWIMS: Paradigm shift in digital signal processing

Inspired by how bees process information, a research consortium from Dresden, Louvain-la-Neuve (Belgium), Lausanne (Switzerland) and Groningen (Netherlands) is working on a joint project titled SWIMS, which is seeking to bring about a paradigm shift for the design and the hardware of intelligent wireless multimodal sensory systems (Stochastic Spiking Wireless Multimodal Sensory Systems). These novel systems are expected to achieve breakthroughs at the system level in terms of energy efficiency. The researchers Prof. Gerhard P. Fettweis (TU Dresden), Prof. Elisabetta Chicca (University of Groningen), Prof. Denis Flandre (UCLouvain) and Prof. Adrian M. Ionescu (EPFL) have been awarded the prestigious Synergy Grant of the European Research Council (ERC) for their project, which includes funding of EUR 13.5 million.

The transition from analog to digital electronics in the last century laid the foundation for digitalization and the continued development of our society. However, advancing digitalization presents us with a challenge: the energy consumption of the infrastructure is rapidly increasing. In order to run the digital applications which are becoming ever more demanding, more and more data has to be processed – which requires more servers, more sensor technology, more communication, and more end devices. We need innovative ways to operate what is currently an extremely energy-intensive information technology in a sustainable and resource-efficient manner.

Over millions of years, evolution has optimized signaling in our nervous system and developed it into impulse signaling, or spiking. The process of generating, processing and transmitting impulses is highly nonlinear. In contrast, signaling in the digital world is currently linear along the signal level, and causes high energy consumption for level generation and linear signal processing. Nonlinear signal processing has considerable potential, especially in terms of energy consumption. However, current theoretical mathematical methods as well as practical implementations still encounter unsolved problems.

Prof. Fettweis and the research group are tackling this issue in the SWIMS project and for the first time strives to find an approach to implement nonlinear pulse processing in electronics, starting from the sensor via processing and communication up to the receiver. In doing so, the researchers will be guided by solutions that insects, such as bees, have already implemented. "A bee has a small neuronal infrastructure of only about one million neurons, but can locate, hear, see, fly in a controlled manner as well as communicate, all with minimal energy input," Fettweis explains. Over the next six years, the project team will investigate how, derived from biology, the complex nonlinear optimization issue can be solved systematically and applied to electronic circuits.

About ERC Synergy Grants
The ERC Synergy Grants of the European Research Council (ERC) support teams of two to four individual researchers working at different locations. They provide funding for projects that lead to “progress at the frontiers of knowledge” via interdisciplinary collaboration. The grant is endowed with up to EUR 10 million plus possible investments over a period of six years. As for the SWIMS project, the funding amounts to EUR 13.5 million, of which approximately EUR 2 million will go to TU Dresden. With the SWIMS project, TUD is involved in an ERC Synergy Grant for the second time. In this funding round, a total of 395 applications were submitted, 37 of which received positive decisions. The ERC Synergy Grant is considered the most prestigious research funding in the EU.

More on Prof. Fettweis
Prof. Gerhard P. Fettweis was born in Wilrijk, Belgium. He studied electrical engineering at RWTH Aachen University, where he received his doctorate in 1990. Since 1994, he has held the Vodafone Chair of Mobile Communications Systems at TU Dresden. Prof. Fettweis coordinated the Center for Advancing Electronics Dresden (cfaed) Cluster of Excellence. Since 2014, he has been coordinator of the interdisciplinary 5G Lab at TU Dresden. Since 2018, he has also been the founding scientific director and managing director of the Barkhausen Institute, a non-profit GmbH with basic funding from the Free State of Saxony. He is a member of the Leopoldina as well as the Acatech.

Prof. Gerhard P. Fettweis
Vodafone Chair of Mobile Communications Systems
TU Dresden
+49 351 463-41000

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