Date of Award

Summer 2014

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science in Electrical and Computer Engineering (MSECE)


Electrical and Computer Engineering

First Advisor

Eugenio Culurciello

Second Advisor

Anand Raghunathan

Committee Chair

Eugenio Culurciello

Committee Co-Chair

Anand Raghunathan

Committee Member 1

Vijay Raghunathan


Convolutional neural networks (ConvNets) are hierarchical models of the mammalian visual cortex. These models have been increasingly used in computer vision to perform object recognition and full scene understanding. ConvNets consist of multiple layers that contain groups of artificial neurons, which are mathematical approximations of biological neurons. A ConvNet can consist of millions of neurons and require billions of computations to produce one output. ^ Currently, giant server farms are used to process information in real time. These supercomputers require a large amount of power and a constant link to the end-user. Low powered embedded systems are not able to run convolutional neural networks in real time. Thus, using these systems on mobile platforms or on platforms where a connection to an off-site server is not guaranteed, is unfeasible. ^ In this work we present nn-X — a scalable hardware architecture capable of processing ConvNets in real time. We evaluate the performance and power consumption of the aforementioned architecture and compare it with systems typically used to process convolutional neural networks. Our system is prototyped on the Xilinx Zynq XC7Z045 device. On this device, we are able to achieve a peak performance of 227 GOPs/s, a measured performance of up to 200 GOPs/s while consuming less than 3 W of power. This translates to a performance per power improvement of up to 10 times that of conventional embedded systems and up to 25 times that of performance systems like desktops and GPUs.