Reducing the Energy Cost of Inference via In-sensor Information Processing

by   Sai Zhang, et al.

There is much interest in incorporating inference capabilities into sensor-rich embedded platforms such as autonomous vehicles, wearables, and others. A central problem in the design of such systems is the need to extract information locally from sensed data on a severely limited energy budget. This necessitates the design of energy-efficient sensory embedded system. A typical sensory embedded system enforces a physical separation between sensing and computational subsystems - a separation mandated by the differing requirements of the sensing and computational functions. As a consequence, the energy consumption in such systems tends to be dominated by the energy consumed in transferring data over the sensor-processor interface (communication energy) and the energy consumed in processing the data in digital processor (computational energy). In this article, we propose an in-sensor computing architecture which (mostly) eliminates the sensor-processor interface by embedding inference computations in the noisy sensor fabric in analog and retraining the hyperparameters in order to compensate for non-ideal computations. The resulting architecture referred to as the Compute Sensor - a sensor that computes in addition to sensing - represents a radical departure from the conventional. We show that a Compute Sensor for image data can be designed by embedding both feature extraction and classification functions in the analog domain in close proximity to the CMOS active pixel sensor (APS) array. Significant gains in energy-efficiency are demonstrated using behavioral and energy models in a commercial semiconductor process technology. In the process, the Compute Sensor creates a unique opportunity to develop machine learning algorithms for information extraction from data on a noisy underlying computational fabric.


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