DESCNet: Developing Efficient Scratchpad Memories for Capsule Network Hardware

Alberto Marchisio, Vojtech Mrazek, Muhammad Abdullah Hanif, Muhammad Shafique

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Deep Neural Networks (DNNs) have been established as the state-of-the-art method for advanced machine learning applications. Recently proposed by the Google Brain’s team, the Capsule Networks (CapsNets) have improved the generalization ability, as compared to DNNs, due to their multi-dimensional capsules and preserving the spatial relationship between different objects. However, they pose significantly high computational and memory requirements, making their energy-efficient inference a challenging task. This paper provides, for the first time, an in-depth analysis to highlight the design-and run-time challenges for the (on-chip scratchpad) memories deployed in hardware accelerators executing fast CapsNets inference. To enable an efficient design, we propose an application-specific memory architecture, called DESCNet, which minimizes the off-chip memory accesses, while efficiently feeding the data to the hardware accelerator executing CapsNets inference. We analyze the corresponding on-chip memory requirement, and leverage it to propose a methodology for exploring different scratchpad memory designs and their energy/area trade-offs. Afterwards, an application-specific power-gating technique for the on-chip scratchpad memory is employed to further reduce its energy consumption, depending upon the mapped dataflow of the CapsNet and the utilization across different operations of its processing. We integrated our DESCNet memory design, as well as another state-of-the-art memory design Marchisio2019CapsAcc for comparison studies, with an open-source DNN accelerator executing Google’s CapsNet model Sabour2017dynamicrouting for the MNIST dataset. We also enhanced the design to execute the recent deep CapsNet model Rajasegaran2019deepcaps for the CIFAR10 dataset. Note: we use the same benchmarks and test conditions for which these CapsNets have been proposed and evaluated by their respective teams. The complete hardware is synthesized for a 32nm CMOS technology using the ASIC-design flow with Synopsys tools and CACTI-P, and detailed area, performance and power/energy estimation is performed using different configurations. Our results for a selected Pareto-optimal solution demonstrate no performance loss and an energy reduction of 79% for the complete accelerator, including computational units and memories, when compared to the state-of-the-art design.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number9222370
Pages (from-to)1768-1781
Number of pages14
JournalIEEE Transactions on Computer-Aided Design of Integrated Circuits and Systems
Issue number9
StateAccepted/In press - 2020


  • Capsule Networks
  • Design Space Exploration.
  • Energy Efficiency
  • Machine Learning
  • Memory Design
  • Memory Management
  • Performance
  • Power Gating
  • Scratchpad Memory
  • Special-Purpose Hardware

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Software
  • Computer Graphics and Computer-Aided Design
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering


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