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Department of Engineering

Scaling up research

Scaling up research

Pickover attractor

Professor Rodolphe Sepulchre of the Department of Engineering’s Control Group has received a €2.5 million grant from the European Research Council (ERC) to advance his work on the topic of switchlets. 

We collect so much data at the same resolution, but in fact we need very little of it.

Professor Rodolphe Sepulchre

Switchlets are a novel development in control theory. Analog to the concept of wavelets in signal processing, switchlets are a way to model systems that can generate and modulate complex signals such as those from the brain which are multi-scale – composed of several different temporal and spatial frequencies.

As Professor Sepulchre explained, it is a difficult problem to sort out a broad mixture of frequencies. In signal processing, wavelets – single oscillations resembling waves – are used to deconstruct these frequency mixtures. His approach is to take this same concept and apply it to systems, which can potentially impact control theory, machine learning and neuroscience.

A particular focus of Professor Sepulchre’s research is to emphasize the role of feedback in modulating the resolution of systems. The human visual system, for example, works on many layers. Some are responsible for the small details within an image, and some take a scene as a whole. The brain’s job is to adapt to the various scales and interpret them quickly. And artificial systems have thus far struggled with this problem. “This is a general challenge in the age of big data,” Sepulchre said. “We collect so much data at the same resolution, but in fact we need very little of it. We develop more and more systems to extract information from more and more data, but it’s not done in a multiresolution way.”

That’s where switchlets come in – they will enable new sensory systems that have the capacity to interpret at the multiscale and bridge the fields of engineering and neuroscience. Professor Sepulchre is planning a workshop in Cambridge next year to bring control engineers and neuroscientists together, continuing the collaboration and exploring the shared direction of their fields.

Professor Sepulchre spoke on the ways that human brains compute during a TEDX talk in Liège, Belgium. See below for the video.

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