The rapid improvement in computation capability has made deep convolutional neural networks (CNNs) a great success in recent years on many computer vision tasks with significantly improved accuracy. During the inference phase, many applications demand low latency processing of one image with strict power consumption requirement, which reduces the efficiency of GPU and other general-purpose platform, bringing opportunities for specific acceleration hardware, e.g. FPGA, by customizing the digital circuit specific for the deep learning algorithm inference. However, deploying CNNs on portable and embedded systems is still challenging due to large data volume, intensive computation, varying algorithm structures, and frequent memory accesses. This dissertation proposes a complete design methodology and framework to accelerate the inference process of various CNN algorithms on FPGA hardware with high performance, efficiency and flexibility.
As convolution contributes most operations in CNNs, the convolution acceleration scheme significantly affects the efficiency and performance of a hardware CNN accelerator. Convolution involves multiply and accumulate (MAC) operations with four levels of loops. Without fully studying the convolution loop optimization before the hardware design phase, the resulting accelerator can hardly exploit the data reuse and manage data movement efficiently. This work overcomes these barriers by quantitatively analyzing and optimizing the design objectives (e.g. memory access) of the CNN accelerator based on multiple design variables. An efficient dataflow and hardware architecture of CNN acceleration are proposed to minimize the data communication while maximizing the resource utilization to achieve high performance.
Although great performance and efficiency can be achieved by customizing the FPGA hardware for each CNN model, significant efforts and expertise are required leading to long development time, which makes it difficult to catch up with the rapid development of CNN algorithms. In this work, we present an RTL-level CNN compiler that automatically generates customized FPGA hardware for the inference tasks of various CNNs, in order to enable high-level fast prototyping of CNNs from software to FPGA and still keep the benefits of low-level hardware optimization. First, a general-purpose library of RTL modules is developed to model different operations at each layer. The integration and dataflow of physical modules are predefined in the top-level system template and reconfigured during compilation for a given CNN algorithm. The runtime control of layer-by-layer sequential computation is managed by the proposed execution schedule so that even highly irregular and complex network topology, e.g. GoogLeNet and ResNet, can be compiled. The proposed methodology is demonstrated with various CNN algorithms, e.g. NiN, VGG, GoogLeNet and ResNet, on two different standalone FPGAs achieving state-of-the art performance.
Based on the optimized acceleration strategy, there are still a lot of design options, e.g. the degree and dimension of computation parallelism, the size of on-chip buffers, and the external memory bandwidth, which impact the utilization of computation resources and data communication efficiency, and finally affect the performance and energy consumption of the accelerator. The large design space of the accelerator makes it impractical to explore the optimal design choice during the real implementation phase. Therefore, a performance model is proposed in this work to quantitatively estimate the accelerator performance and resource utilization. By this means, the performance bottleneck and design bound can be identified and the optimal design option can be explored early in the design phase.