Researchers at Stanford University have devised a new type of artificially intelligent camera system that can classify images faster and more energy efficiently, and that could one day be built small enough to be embedded in the devices themselves, something that is not possible today.
They have combined two types of computers to create a faster and less energy-intensive image processor for use in autonomous vehicles, security cameras and medical devices.
The first layer of the prototype camera is a type of optical computer, which does not require the power-intensive mathematics of digital computing. The second layer is a traditional digital electronic computer.
The optical computer layer operates by physically preprocessing image data, filtering it in multiple ways that an electronic computer would otherwise have to do mathematically. Since the filtering happens naturally as light passes through the custom optics, this layer operates with zero input power. This saves the hybrid system a lot of time and energy that would otherwise be consumed by computation.
The result is profoundly fewer calculations, fewer calls to memory and far less time to complete the process. Having leapfrogged these preprocessing steps, the remaining analysis proceeds to the digital computer layer with a considerable head start.