FPGA Based Emulation Environment for Neuromorphic Architectures

by   Spencer Valancius, et al.

Neuromorphic architectures such as IBM's TrueNorth and Intel's Loihi have been introduced as platforms for energy efficient spiking neural network execution. However, there is no framework that allows for rapidly experimenting with neuromorphic architectures and studying the trade space on hardware performance and network accuracy. Fundamentally, this creates a barrier to entry for hardware designers looking to explore neuromorphic architectures. In this paper we present an open-source FPGA based emulation environment for neuromorphic computing research. We prototype IBM's TrueNorth architecture as a reference design and discuss FPGA specific design decisions made when implementing and integrating it's core components. We conduct resource utilization analysis and realize a streaming-enabled TrueNorth architecture on the Zynq UltraScale+ MPSoC. We then perform functional verification by implementing networks for MNIST dataset and vector matrix multiplication (VMM) in our emulation environment and present an accuracy-based comparison based on the same networks generated using IBM's Compass simulation environment. We demonstrate the utility of our emulation environment for hardware designers and application engineers by altering the neuron behavior for VMM mapping, which is, to the best of our knowledge, not feasible with any other tool including IBM's Compass environment. The proposed parameterized and configurable emulation platform serves as a basis for expanding its features to support emerging architectures, studying hypothetical neuromorphic architectures, or rapidly converging to hardware configuration through incremental changes based on bottlenecks as they become apparent during application mapping process.


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