The construction will take 2 years: the building will be ready in 2019. The resulting building will have an area of around 2,200 square meters.
The Heidelberg University department, led by Prof. Dr. Karlheinz Meier of the Kirchhoff Institute for Physics, will move to the new building. With the support of a range of European research institutions, Prof. Meier's group is creating a technological platform for neuromorphic computing. The neuromorphic computing platform in Heidelberg - there is already one installed today - is also available through the Human Brain Project.
Neuromorphic computing is using brain-like structures and functions to electronic circuits. There are several sub-neuromorphic computing projects in the Human Brain Project. It is one of the technologies that in the next decade could contribute to new ways of supercomputing that go beyond traditional HPC, and beyond Moore's Law. As such it is, together with quantum computing, one of the promising technologies of post-exascale computing.
With neuromorphic computing one hopes to achieve energy efficiency, speed, robustness, and the ability to learn.
Karlheinz Meier explained there are three complementary approaches to neuromorphic computing today.The SpiNNaker project uses commodity micro-processors; TruNorth is a custom full digital model, and BrainScaleS is a custom mixed-signal model, i.e. also using the analogue circuitry approach. It is not that one approach is better than the other: they all need to be explored.
SpiNNAker, led by the University of Manchester, contains some 500.000 ARM processors and is suited for modelling biological neural networks. TrueNorth is a US project, led by IBM. It is a hardware implementation of neural circuits going away from classical Von Neumann computer architecture. BrainScaleS is very close to how the brain works: hence it has analogue components. It does local computing with 4 million neurons and 1 billion synapses with binary asynchronous communication between the local components. The systems emulates what happens in a real biological system - the brain - but at a much higher speed: 10.000 faster than real-time.
According to Karlheinz Meier the building is designed to be there for a longer period of time, perhaps for 100 years. So it will provide room not only for the current machine, but definitely also for exciting new approaches in the future.
The cost for the new EINC building is supported by private sponsors, the European Regional Development Fund, and the University itself.
Half of the roughly 18 million euro in construction costs for the EINC facility is being provided by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and allocated by the Baden-Württemberg Ministry of Science, which will contribute another two million euro.
With a sum of six million euro, three private sponsors have secured the funding for the EINC building. Honorary Senator Dr. Hans-Peter Wild is supporting the planned facility with three million euro, while the Klaus Tschira Foundation and the Dietmar Hopp Stiftung are both contributing 1,5 million euro to the project. "We are creating something new. Thanks to this generous financial support, we are able to build a modern research facility with a large machine hall for the cognitive computers of the future", explained Prof. Dr Bernhard Eitel, President of Heidelberg University.
Honorary Senator Dr. Hans-Peter Wild stated: "The new building that will house the University's facility for neuromorphic computing is an important stepping stone on the way to this goal. I have always been fascinated by new technologies, and supporting unusual and pioneering developments is important to me. That is why I am happy to contribute to Heidelberg University's efforts to offer the world's best and brightest, an excellent research environment."
Beate Spiegel, Managing Director of the Klaus Tschira Foundation, stated: "Klaus Tschira was very interested in the investigation and development of new computer architectures that are modelled on the human brain. Beyond his personal interest, he was keen to support the ongoing development of information science for the benefit of humankind. That is why he agreed as early as three years ago to become a sponsor of the European Institute for Neuromorphic Computing through his foundation."
Dietmar Hopp, Dietmar Hopp Stiftung, stated: "The Human Brain Project represents a new chapter in information and communication technology. I am happy that Heidelberg University, and with it the entire Rhine-Neckar Metropolitan Region, is part of this development and taking a leading role in the European consortium."
If you want to use the neuromorphic computing system at Heidelberg today, you can do that, but Karlheinz Meier warns that it is much more complicated to use than a standard computing facility. Being able to program these will not help you in using a neuromorphic computer. But if you want to use it as, say, part of a PhD study, you can ask for an account on one of the systems and get assistance. But if you want to do that in the "perfect" environment, you have to wait until the new building is ready.