Custom Hardware Inference Accelerator for TensorFlow Lite for Microcontrollers

Erez Manor, Shlomo Greenberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


In recent years, the need for the efficient deployment of Neural Networks (NN) on edge devices has been steadily increasing. However, the high computational demand required for Machine Learning (ML) inference on tiny microcontroller-based IoT devices avoids a direct software deployment on such resource-constrained edge devices. Therefore, various custom and application-specific NN hardware accelerators have been proposed to enable real-time Machine Learning (ML) inference on low-power and resource-limited edge devices. Efficient mapping of the computational load onto hardware and software resources is a key challenge for performance improvement while keeping low power and a low area footprint. High performance and yet low power embedded processors may be attained via the usage of hardware acceleration. This paper presents an efficient hardware-software framework to accelerate machine learning inference on edge devices using a modified TensorFlow Lite for Microcontroller (TFLM) model running on a Microcontroller (MCU) and a dedicated Neural Processing Unit (NPU) custom hardware accelerator, referred to as MCU-NPU. The proposed framework supports weight compression of pruned quantized NN models and exploits the pruned model sparsity to reduce computational complexity further. The proposed methodology has been evaluated by employing the MCU-NPU acceleration for various TFLM-based NN architectures using the common MLPerf Tiny benchmark. Experimental results demonstrate a significant speedup of up to 724x compared to a pure software implementation. For example, the resulting runtime for the CIFAR-10 classification is reduced from about 20 sec to only 37 ms using the proposed hardware acceleration. Moreover, the proposed hardware accelerator outperforms all the reference models optimized for edge devices in terms of inference runtime.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)73484-73493
Number of pages10
JournalIEEE Access
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2022


  • TensorFlow-Lite for microcontrollers
  • TinyML
  • hardware-software codesign
  • neural processing unit

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Computer Science
  • General Materials Science
  • General Engineering
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering


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